Friday, 7 June 2013

Something for the Weekend

In recent years I have got into the habit of having a single, annual haircut, generally at the point in the early summer when the prospect of combining heat, humidity and the still relatively generous head of hair my genes have bequeathed me starts to become an unpleasant reality.  This week was haircut week.  I went from scruffy collar-length to neat above-the-ears in fifteen minutes.

Conveniently, there's a hairdresser located in our university's Student Union, so I use that.  I'm sufficiently a boy of the "long 1950s", though, never to feel entirely comfortable in its unisex atmosphere.  As so often, "unisex" here means "a female environment in which men are tolerated".  There are too many mirrors, smells, lifestyle magazines, and pastel colours for a graceless lump like me to feel at home.  The pounding club-style music does nothing much for me, either.


I liked the old-fashioned barbershop that closed a decade or more ago, where I used to go with my son.  It was one step up from a well-run car-maintenance garage in ambience, but only one step.  Functional, sparse, with tools laid out ready to hand, and reassuringly under-decorated.  The barber, George, knew his trade, how to match cut to head, and how to read personality.  I never had to ask to have a bit more taken off, and the question, "Would you like anything on it, sir?" was a question expecting the answer "No".  George's well-honed instincts also told him that I did not require interrogation about my holiday plans, or the prospects of England against Australia in the Ashes.  He would work in a deep, austerely contemplative silence, broken only by the snip of scissors and the buzz of the electric trimmer.  Back in the day, I imagine those ten minutes getting a trim were the longest most men ever spent looking at themselves in a mirror.  Prolonged eye-contact with oneself fosters uncomfortable self-appraisal -- no wonder most customers preferred to chat about the weather.

However, there was also none of the passive pleasure of having two young women -- one to wash, one to "style" -- in intimate contact with one's head.  In the mind-set of the 1950s, that would have been verging on the scandalous: positively Profumo.  Habitual segregation by gender meant that any physical contact fizzed with erotic charge.  A casual touch of the hand when passing change in a shop was tantamount to an indecent proposal, and therefore carefully avoided.  But sex did rear its dodgily-coiffed head in the barbershop.  Alongside the scissors and razors, dangling leather strops, and tubs of Brylcreem, boxes of condoms were openly on display.  The barber's famous final question, "Something for the weekend, sir?" was the cue to palm a packet of three discreetly to the customer.


Where I realise I probably differ from those men of old, and most men even today, is in a willingness to be seen with radically different lengths of hair.   It's curious how rigidly guys stick to a chosen length and style. It's a high-maintenance approach.  I lost the habit of "popping in for a trim" when I let my hair grow to chest length after leaving school, and never regained it.  Now, I enjoy the shape-shifting effect of gradually changing demographic, as seen in others' eyes, like a slow-mo werewolf.

It's curious how your tacit approval or disapproval rating shifts. You start off neatly barbered, bristly, and a little hyper-masculine.  The suit-and-tie crowd acknowledge you. The edges gradually get knocked off that look, and you become Mr. Windblown-Casual, who lives for the weekend out on his boat.  Then, somewhere around three quarters of the way through the year you pass through a barrier of respectability, and find yourself back in the fold with the sub-cultural types.

I don't know whether my body-language mirrors the hair, but I suspect it may: in the final weeks before haircut week my partner tells me I have a positively (or perhaps negatively) defiant, two-fingers vibe.

But just now I'm Mr. Respectable again!

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17 comments:

dougplummer said...

Loved this! You have the luxury of having a stable job that tolerates your hirsute tendencies. I look positively disreputable after about 4 weeks, and I dislike the aging, balding hippie look, even if that is who I really am. I get a haircut generally only before I have to meet with a client.

The last year I've been making a monthly haircut date with my 81 mother-in-law at precisely one of those unisex places where I now have my regular hairdresser. Getting my hair washed feels like water boarding to me, so I decline that pleasure, but it's nice to have someone who know that I desire only a no maintenance cut that I don't have to think about until I have to endure a haircut again.

Struan said...

If ever there were a need for stop-motion video, this is it.

I leave my hair a couple of months between cuts, and like the fact that I don't always look the same. But somewhere around seven weeks it stops growing and gets thick and bushy, in an old dog with no home sort of way. Then it's time for mowing.

One other service those young ladies have recently started to offer me: "Would you like your eyebrows trimmed?" It's like being handed a bus pass without anyone asking for ID.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Doug -- I have to admit it's the ageing, balding hippies around that always finally tip me over the edge. After that initial moment of solidarity, I think, "Good grief, do I really want to look like that?" and book my appointment.

Struan,

Eyebrow trimming? I haven't been offered that (though it's much needed), though I was offered "threading" once, which caused me to hold my breath, as I had no idea what it was, whether it was legal, or whether I'd like it...

Mike

Frank Harkin said...

Great piece, Mike. I emphasise entirely but I had the good fortune to marry a hairdresser who tells me when I need a haircut and then obliges without me having to leave the house - and it includes eyebrow trimming!

PS I bought the Kodachrome book - impenetrable prose but great photos.

Frank Harkin said...

Great piece, Mike. I emphasise entirely but I had the good fortune to marry a hairdresser who tells me when I need a haircut and then obliges without me having to leave the house - and it includes eyebrow trimming!

PS I bought the Kodachrome book - impenetrable prose but great photos.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Frank -- yes, "Kodachrome" is an astonishing piece of work, especially bearing in mind it was done in 1979, when most artist photographers were obsessed with the monochrome darkroom. Even William Eggleston's MOMA show in 1976 didn't change that much.

Mike

Rob Fuke said...

I stopped going to 'Chris Tifs' just over the road, about two years ago. Having had my head shaved for several years, I finally went back to a transparent, downy-suede look. The last time I went for a trim, Millie came with me to get a proper cut. When we asked Christine how much we owed her, she looked a bit nervous. 'How about 10€ for Rob, I hardly had to do anything.' At that point I bought some electric clippers.
Deep down, I still dream of dreadlocks.

Mike C. said...

Rob,

Most of those "white dreads" are fake, I discovered -- they're hair extensions. There's a guy on campus, one of those large, baby-faced blonds, who has a ludicrous set of rope-like dreads that hang below his waist. I keep wanting to say to him, "You do realise you look like a school gym, don't you?" but he's probably as impervious as the other guy, now pushing 40, who wears a Matrix-style leather overcoat in all weathers.

Mike

zythophile said...

My brother, the fecker, has managed to maintain long, wavy, blond collar-length locks into his mid-50s, while I have been developing an unwanted monk-like tonsure for the past 10 years: the worst part about having my hair cut is the bit at the end where the barber whips out the small mirror to show you what you look like from behind. The increasing area of pink in the middle of my crown makes me cringe. I haven't yet gone for the "baldy own-up" extremely short cut, but there's going to come a time ...

The first barber to offer me an eyebrow trim was Polish - has anyone else noticed how most barbers in Britain now seem to be Poles? (Joke unintended.) The very best ones will also give your ears (or at least my ears - your hairiness may differ) a quick zang with the trimmer: one of the minor irritations of old age is that as the hair disappears off the top of my head, it sprouts all over my ears: the other curse of Midas.

Martyn Cornell

Mike C. said...

Martyn,

Yes, it's quite curious how many otherwise inoffensive men have chosen that "hard man" close-shaven look. Tricky to live up to, I'd have thought, though I suppose if everyone does it then it starts to connote "balding" rather than anything more threatening. Literal skinheads...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Where I once lived it was normal for a barber to pluck cheekbone hair as part of a shave (or perhaps an optional extra), and the string with which this procedure was executed was as much a part of his toolkit as the cutthroat razor. One end of the string is held in the teeth, the other in a spare hand while the thumb and forefinger of the first open and close a loop in the string (in the same motions now used to expand and contract pictures on smart phones). Where the string passes over itself to form the loop, the hairs beneath are pulled out by friction.

If you do want more than just a haircut at a salon, it's best to wait till after the cut, then when you're sure you're happy with that, ask, "D'you do any extras, love?"

Mike C. said...

That would be the aforesaid "threading", apparently ears are a favourite target for this. Ow.

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

"Aforesaid" where?

The Oxford Companion to Music has it that:

"One of the regular haunts of music in the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eightenth centuries was the barber's shop"

where an instrument, usually a cittern, was generally made available for those waiting.

Apparently when Pepys was on the ship that returned Chas II to England, they "at the suggestion of the admiral, and with the help of the lieutenant's cittern and two candlesticks with money in them as cymbals, 'made barber's music, with which my Lord was well pleased'".

A tradition worth reviving?

eeyorn said...

You haven't lived until you've had your nose-hair trimmed. All part of the service when I lived in Bahrain. My barber there was also adept with 'threading' my Dennis Healey eyebrows, and was also known to wield a cutthroat razor with intent.
These days, I veer from bearded collie in winter to Dalai Lama during the summer, self-shorn with electric clippers.

Andrew Sharp said...

I do remember you bemoaning the fact that you still got stopped by the police even though you'd gone from long to short.

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

3rd comment down for "threading". Funny to think you once had to seek music out, whereas now you can't avoid it.

eeyorn,

I have indeed lived.

Andy,

Yes, it seemed very unfair at the time. I hadn't realised there was more to "respectable" than hair length (such as not walking home through Dalston at 2 am with a large bag).

Mike

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