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My Story: Back to the Future by Stopfordian Stationer

Whilst I had been making changes and tweaks to my haircut in the last couple of years, I had not been the only one in the family doing that. As you may remember from earlier instalments, Alex had long hair all through his teenage years and never expressed any interest in changing or doing anything different so he got basically the same cut every time Richard came. As my hair had gradually got shorter, he began making more comments about it and referring to it in more complimentary terms and dropping hints that he might be interested in changing himself. One time after Richard had been supposed to come but had to cancel, Alex told me that he was disappointed that Richard couldn’t come as he had been steeling himself to get his hair cut like mine (during the period when I had the cut I had seen on the Australian cricketer). I was a little surprised but not that much given some of his previous comments. After Richard stopped coming to the house, Alex continued to go to his shop but not with dad and me and finally about a year after I had that cut, dad mentioned that Alex had been to Richard’s and had his hair cut short. Sure enough, when I saw him later, he had a very similar cut to mine which was a radical change from what he had previously.

A couple of months after the initial short cut, Alex got married and then obviously didn’t live at home anymore after that. He stopped going to Richard as the shop was too far away from where he now lived and he went somewhere more local to him instead. Over the next year or so, he evolved into a style that was the same length at the back and sides but short and spiky on top and this was something that put more ideas about change in my mind. After I went to the swept back style, I had wondered about getting the top spiked like Alex had his. I had begun asking for the top to be cut shorter so it spiked up a bit but it was not full on spiky like Alex’s. One on occasion when Mark was asking me how much I wanted cut off the top he indicated a length and I asked ‘Maybe a bit shorter?’
‘If it’s any shorter than that it will really spike,’ Mark replied.
That was my chance but I wasn’t ready and I told him not to cut any more off.

One of the reasons for not wanting to go any further and shorter was my mum’s disapproval. After her initial reluctance to let me get my hair cut short she had come round and been quite pleased with my shorter styles. Since I had been getting a number one at the back and sides, she had not been so keen and said it was too short. When I mentioned possibly getting mine cut like Alex’s she wasn’t happy at all. Although I was legally an adult by now, the prospect of active maternal disapproval was still something to be avoided as that would potentially mean aggravation that did not fit with my mantra of "anything for a quiet life". I wasn’t that bothered so it was a battle I chose not to fight for the moment.

An opportunity was arising after I finished my first year at University and was on the long summer holiday. Mum and dad would be going on holiday without me for the first time in mid-August and it would just be me and Dominic at home. That made me think that since mum and dad wouldn’t see me for a couple of weeks, I could go for a haircut on the day they went away, get the shorter look I had been considering and it would be grown out a bit when they came back. My thinking was that I would be used to it and having taken the initial step would just carry on with it after that. The plan was set so on the first day of the holiday I would definitely be getting the shorter spiky cut like Alex’s.

As the time grew closer, I kept rehearsing the same thoughts in my mind. "They won’t see me for a couple of weeks. I can do something different and get used to it. There is nobody to stop me and talk me out of it now." This carried on until two or three weeks before my parents were due to go, around the time of my nineteenth birthday. I was thinking again about the new spiky haircut I was going to have and why I could make the change and that it was a chance to do something different when I was suddenly struck with absolute clarity by another thought: "I could get a crew cut." My memory went back to all those years before when I was all ready to get my hair buzzed off and didn’t and I thought, "Right, this is happening. No chickening out this time, you are going to walk into the barber’s and ask for clippers on top." My mind was made up within seconds and I began to count down the time with an increased sense of anticipation. I had a minor alarm the week before when dad asked if I wanted to go with him for a haircut before they went on holiday but I managed to convince him that I would just go myself sometime when they were away. The last week before, I was actively counting down the days one by one.

Mum and dad went away on a Saturday and left very early to get to the airport so they were gone by the time I woke up. This was it: the day the clippers were finally going to go over the top of my head and shave my hair off. I hadn’t sorted out all the details in my mind because although I was going to get a one at the sides as usual I was undecided whether to have a three or four on top. I thought I would ask for either and then see what the four looked like and go from there. Could a three be that much shorter? Richard had told my dad the week before that he was going away himself so I knew he wouldn’t be there and it would just be Mark. It was a shame that Richard wasn’t going to do it given our long history but that was just one of those things. In early afternoon I got changed into one of Dominic’s work shirts from the laundry basket (fortunately we are roughly the same size) put a jumper over the top of it since it was not exactly warm despite being August and went out to get the bus. I had passed my driving test by now but dad did not have too much faith in my teenage driving abilities so I promised him I would not use the car while he was away.

After I got off the bus I walked to the shop, went in and sat down on the sofa. It was busy as I suspected it would be since Mark was working on his own and there were four or five people in front of me. It was obvious that none of the cuts would be greatly interesting, just standard older man cuts. There were a couple of guys who were together who were a few years older than me and I didn’t know whether they were both getting cuts. I was counting them down one by one and getting closer each time to going in the chair. There was a rugby match on TV in the corner but I wasn’t really taking much notice. My mind was wandering to what was about to happen and I was filled with a mix of excitement and nervousness. I had worked up all sorts of scenarios about me being caped up and the clippers about to go into my hair when the phone rang and I had to wait while Mark answered or that I would be left there for some other reason. I was also wondering whether the top would be done first or the back and sides. I resolved that I would be looking straight ahead into the mirror with my hands on the arms of the chair when the clippers went over my head.

Mark worked through the others in front of me quickly enough until only the two younger guys were left and one of them was in the chair getting his cut. As Mark got closer to finishing I was aware that it might not be long, depending on whether the friend would be getting a cut too. Mark loosened the cape at the back and brushed the hair from around the customer’s neck, before taking the cape off and the guy got up to pay. At the same time, his friend got up from his seat and walked towards the door, making it obvious that they were both leaving now. It was my turn. My stomach jumped a little.

A couple of people had come in after me but Mark obviously knew that I was next as he asked me if I was having my hair washed as he headed off to the till with the previous customer. I had already decided I wasn’t since it was all just getting shaved off so I thought that would be a waste of time and money. I don’t know whether he wondered why when I had always had my hair washed as long as I had been going there but he didn’t say anything. He was soon back and beckoned me over and I stood up, made the short walk to the barber’s chair with my legs slightly shaky and sat down. Mark covered me with a brown cape (they were now sometimes green, sometimes brown) and asked the question. ‘How are you having it?’
Here goes. No backing out this time. ‘Can I have a number one at the back and sides and either a three or four on top?’ I asked.
‘Three or four?’ replied Mark. ‘That short?’
‘Yep,’ I answered.
‘OK, I’ll do the four first and you can see what you think.’

I was now all ready and wondered where Mark would start. I looked straight ahead and gripped the arms of the chair in anticipation but then saw him put the number one guard on the clippers. Not yet then. He started at the back as usual and efficiently stripped the hair from the back of my head before going round the sides and doing them too. So far so normal. He carried on for a few minutes like that and then tidied up around the edges. After that he then turned back around to the counter, picked up the number four guard and attached it to the clippers. I gripped the arms of the chair again but Mark didn’t go straight in. ‘Are you absolutely sure about this?’ he asked me. ‘You can’t change your mind once I start.’
I nodded. ‘Yep.’
Still one more time. ‘Sure? You can’t change your mind once this goes in.’
‘Yes, I’m sure,’ I reassured him.
That seemed to be enough finally as Mark flipped the clippers and came towards me. About ten years after it should have happened, the moment was finally here.

Mark put the clippers at the left side of my forehead and moved them steadily backwards over the top of my head towards the back. A stripe of bristles that looked extremely short to me was left behind in their wake. I have two abiding memories of that haircut: the tingling feeling on the top of my head as the clippers went over for the first time and my moment of panic when I saw how little was left after the first pass of the clippers. "Bloody hell," I thought, "there is nothing left at all. That’s much shorter than I was expecting it to look"! Thinking back now there is no doubt in my mind that of all the different haircuts I have had over the years, the first stripe taken out of the top during that first buzzcut was definitely the scariest, most intense moment in any of them. The next couple of passes were not front to back but up and over from the left hand side, going over the first buzzed stripe. Clumps of hair were raining down on me. Then Mark was going front to back and then again and almost all the hair was shaved from the top of my head. I still couldn’t believe how short it was and I knew I wouldn’t be getting a three, there was no way I was going even shorter than this. Mark was continuing with the top and there was no longer hair left at all now, it was all shorn to a uniform length. Masses of my hair lay on the cape in my lap.

After Mark had finished running the clippers over my head to his satisfaction, he began the process of blending what was left of the top into the even shorter hair on the back and sides. I looked in the mirror and although I was still shocked by the shortness I realised that for all it was really short, much more so that I had anticipated, it didn’t actually look bad. I seemed to have a decent head shape and no lumps or bumps anywhere. By the time the blending was finished, I was starting to come to terms with it a bit. When Mark asked if I wanted to stick with the four or go to the three though, I still told him that it was fine and to leave it as it was. The cape was loosened and I was done, Mark brushed away the loose hairs and showed me the back in the mirror. ‘That’s fine, thanks,’ I think I managed to say. He took the cape off me and as I sat there, before getting up, I ran my hand backwards for the first time over the clipped hair on the top of my head and ruffled the bristles left behind which immediately sprang back into place. Wow, what a feeling! More tingles. I got up, paid and walked out to face the world. At long last I was the clipped and crew cut lad that I had wanted to be all those years ago.

When I got home I couldn’t stop looking at myself in the mirror, which was a fair indicator of how I now felt. It didn’t just look OK, it actually suited me and Dominic told me as much unprompted as soon as he saw me, as did his girlfriend. They both knew I was going to do it so it wasn’t a surprise. Everyone I saw said the same and I was happy, and a bit surprised, that not only had I finally got a buzzcut but that it looked so good on me. I knew more or less straight away that I was going to keep it. When my parents got back a couple of weeks later and they saw me for the first time, mum didn’t like it but didn’t really say anything much. Dad seemed amused more than anything and just laughed and said ‘I see you have had your ears lowered, Patrick!’ I made it clear to my mum before I got it cut again that I was going to keep it and she would probably hate it when she saw the fresh cut. She never really came round and used to say that I looked like somebody off Strangeways roof in reference to people she had seen on TV who took part a prison riot that had happened a couple of years previously. Not exactly complimentary but at least she did not try to talk me into changing. I kept it like that for the best part of a couple of years until around the time I started my final term at University. I would go every four weeks or so to get it tightened up. All I needed to say was ‘one and four’ and off it came again.

Since I was about to finish University, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I would have to grow my hair in order to project what would be perceived as a more "professional" look for interviews in order to try to get a decent job. In those days a certain image was expected for certain jobs, much more so than now where almost anything goes. I felt I had no choice to conform so I just started getting the sides trimmed and left the top altogether and then just having it tidied up a bit as it grew out. By the time I graduated, I had a fairly long and floppy fringe going on and I knew I was going to have to try to get a "hairstyle" of some description. I tried a centre parting and side parting and various lengths but I couldn’t get it to sit right or find a look I liked somehow. I eventually ended up just brushing it straight forward with a shortish fringe, which looked OK but I wished I still had the buzzcut. I got it cut every three or four weeks so I would always be looking sharp if any interviews came up. It was around this time that I stopped going to Richard and Mark to get it cut. Without my own transport they were too far away and going there and back on the unreliable buses just took up too much time. I began going to different shops that were nearer and within walking distance. The good thing about doing that was I could look through the windows to check out the queues for any potential interesting cuts before committing so that added an extra dimension.

It took me getting on for a year to get a job after graduating. It started as a temporary placement and I was fortunate that then turned into a permanent position and I was able to start working my way up. I now had to wear a suit, shirt and tie to work so I was able to indulge myself and go for haircuts straight after work still in my work clothes. Although I had to dress formally, the atmosphere and environment was very relaxed in other ways and not at all rigid. When it came to haircuts there did not seem to be any hard and fast rules and as long as you dressed smartly and did your job properly, it wasn’t a concern. That made me think and I started to push the envelope some more. I had been getting a two at the back and sides so as not to look too extreme but went back to a one. The top started getting shorter and shorter again to the point where I had to gel it to keep it from sticking up and the fringe became higher and higher. I was getting to the point where it wasn’t too far off buzzcut length but I was still relatively new and wondered if that would be a step too far. My boss was old school but approachable and had been very good to me so I decided to ask him what he thought. I outlined what I was considering and asked if it was OK or if there would be a problem with it. He was a bit surprised but not bothered and took the view that these things were not really important and that how I had my hair cut was my decision and not something that concerned him.

I had thought that meant there were no obstacles to going back to my crew cut days but had reckoned without my mum. I made the mistake of mentioning what I was thinking about doing and that the boss had told me I could go ahead but disapproval once again kicked in and words like "disappointed" were bandied about. I know it should not have matter and I should have carried on anyway but I still avoided unnecessary aggravation as much as possible. I went to get a haircut for the first time following my conversation with my boss with the full intention of getting another buzzcut but didn’t go through with it. Three weeks later I was back in the barber’s again with no intention of getting it shaved so I asked for a one back and sides, short on top and short at the front. The barber snipped away until the top was probably even a bit shorter than normal and my fringe was right up towards the top of my forehead. I idly wondered what would happen if I asked for it shorter now. Would he suggest that he just used the clippers on it? When he finished cutting and asked if that was short enough I thought, "Well there is only one way to find out."
‘Can you take a bit more off?’
The barber considered for a second and sure enough replied, ‘If you want it shorter you could almost have a number four. It wouldn’t really take a lot more off the top, you would only notice a difference at the front as you wouldn’t have any fringe.’
I didn’t need any further persuasion. This way I could get the top buzzed and honestly say I hadn’t asked for it to start with. ‘OK, can you do the number four then please?’ I said.
The clippers came back on and went over the top of my head for the first time in a couple of years. There wasn’t that much to take off this time so it was far less dramatic than my original "first" buzz but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I went to work a couple of days later suited, booted and clipped. That was me now, I was how I wanted to look and that was how it was going to stay.

That return to having the clippers all over was more than 28 years ago now and I can honestly say that my hair has never been cut with scissors again since that day. Over the next two or three years, the four on top became a three and the three became a two and I was rocking it. Does that mean this is the end of the story? Not quite . . .

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