Short Cuts

‘Hairier than a barber’s floor’ – a shop, yesterday

I bemoan the onset of middle age on a regular basis, but that doesn’t seem to stop it. The inevitability of the slow-drowning of youth consumes the body and personality, as you gradually morph into the grown-up you swore you would never become. The slow, deep, thudding sound of human skull repeatedly bashing itself on the desk of employment is the sonic accompaniment to the realisation. But why so, and what has punctuated the otherwise serene calm of your scribe? Unfortunately, today’s Judd-Nelson-at-the-end-of-The-Breakfast-Club-air-punch moment was when I patted myself on the back for deciding I had a new route to work. Yes, I have beaten you, slow-moving, unimaginative traffic suckers, with an incredibly intricate back-route, saving approximately five amazing minutes. In. Your. Face.

*thud*

It is at this point in proceedings when you would be well within your reading rights to heed the words of BBC’s school holiday-broadcasted, Belfast based (always seemed to be Belfast, right?) kids show Why Don’t You?, and literally go and do something less boring instead. But this determined change of routine signalled another change on the very same day – a new barber. A man’s haircut is a simple process, but a difficult issue to confront. Men don’t talk about hair. We might ask each other which barber we go to, but no more than that. It is based, mainly, on price and proximity. How much does it cost, and how long do I have to be seen in public before I can get home and wash out the small bits that itch, and make it look like I want it to? A man would never proffer statements regarding the body, colour or shape of a friend’s barnet. There are very few moments in life when this is acceptable behaviour: your own wedding day perhaps or….er….no, sorry, that’s it. And even then there are more pressing issues than the hair of the groom.

And this is the polar opposite to the female interpretation of the ritual – involving hot drinks, a few magazines of indeterminate age, deep conversations about shallow topics, etc. A woman’s expectations are that she leaves the salon looking like a film star, and can take half a day to colour, sculpt, cut and produce. Men, conversely, are prepared to look like shit for another week, because the queue is too long. And this is probably a week after it should have been done anyway, which your partner or parent mentioned, pointedly in passing, to you – because it wouldn’t have been a mate that suggested it, obviously.

Men are uncomfortable talking about hair – it is not a natural conversation to have unlike, say, roasting and resting times for a rib of beef – so having explained how you want it done to a barber once, the simplest and most convenient solution is to return to the same barber repeatedly. Even if you’re not entirely satisfied with the result. Why would you do this? Well, he/she knows what I want, because I had that squirming “what are we doing today?” question answered last time. And maybe I didn’t explain it properly. It’s me, not him/her. It’ll be better next time, as maybe he was having an off day. But, thankfully, we’re over that now. We’ve crossed that taboo line. My barber and I now have a deeper relationship than is endured by my closest friends. But this equilibrium has been rocked.

My preferred choice of grooming location was chosen for reasons mentioned above – having moved to a new area, I was previously getting it cut at the nearest barber to our house. I had no new friends to ask, certainly not anybody close enough to ask such a question without getting punched. As a result I endured several cuts by a racist, body-building, ex-servicemen and doorman, from Stoke on Trent. As far as I know, he still takes four weeks off in February to go to Thailand on “you know, one of ‘them’ holidays”. I refused to ask him what he got up to when he was there, as he used to nudge my shoulder whenever he mentioned it. This, apparently, was code for something untoward. I have suspicions. Anyway, it was after making real friends with a real human man, that I asked him where he went for a haircut. Apart from it being close enough to the house, and well within budget, I was recommended a person with a real name (Dave). Apparently he had a good knowledge of important, chit-chatterable issues such as music and football, so should the need for shallow conversation arise, bases were covered.

Dave, however, has left. Jesus Tapdancing Christ.

Because, as all men should be aware, it is people that cut hair, not shops. Yet, the male would persist with the same location, assuming that we get the consistency and comfort from the bricks and mortar, and not the hands with the clippers. Women do not have this issue, as they call in advance, make an appointment with the receptionist, book the hairdresser they want, and therefore there are no surprises. As soon as a man opens the door and steps inside, the eye-lock of a barber acts as a hairy tractor beam. What we should do is confidently stride in, take a look, ask the question such as “is Dave around?” and wait for an answer. But no, we sit down and await our turn, fidgeting uncomfortably, sweating like a blind lesbian in a fish market, hoping that this stranger with scissors can read our mind. Which, in truth would be more of an issue, as the thought running through the head isn’t the positive “she could maybe be better than Dave”, but the fear-mongering “please don’t fuck this up”.

My fears were unfounded, though, and one can report a successful-ish navigation of both the questioning, and resulting cut. The only problem is wrestling with this bloody drama again in a month’s time. Every month.

UPDATE April, 2012

Upon this tawdry ritual being thrashed out every bleeding month, I sought a new establishment. So, trooping into the town, I took the ‘nearest/cheapest’ criteria and headed to a Turkish shop called Nvar. Imagine my ball-dropping delight to walk past the window, and there he was: Dave. Resplendent in baggy jeans and wallabies, floral shirt and a grin on his face, he was twice the character he was previously. He was alive, nearer, cheaper and absolutely a damn site better than the last trout that hacked at my badger-impersonating thatch.

We sat and talked over a cup of coffee, exchanging stories of the bad old days of Hedz International – not only dyslexic, but also struggling to be local, let alone inter-fucking-national. The music was good, the banter fresh, and the haircut decent. He owns it, has a loyal customer base, and has ensured that security we as men, occasionally need. Welcome back, Dave. Ad welcome to twitter: @goergieboy

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