Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Tale of Two Barbers

barber sign - ghanaI had a haircut yesterday, the first one since Nottingham Pride (23 July) which makes it almost 2 months to the day since I last had one. My hair grows quickly and I usually have it cut every 4-6 weeks so I was looking a bit woolly. It didn't look bad but my sideburns and the bits at the back were verging on untidy. The bits at the side were doing 'that Hal Jordan thing' as my ex used to say, something that appealed to him. In other words, the grey was pretty obvious to see. That doesn't bother me but, all-in-all, it was definitely time for a cut.

In Nottingham, I always had my hair cut by P at Jack's Hairdressing and Urban Therapy for Men. A long, trendy name for a barbershop but it's the sort of place that suits that sort of name. Or, at least, thinks it deserves that sort of name. You know what I mean - loud music, lots of chrome and steel, black and grey decor, multiple TV screens on the wall, etc. Oh, and expensive haircuts. The first time I went in, I just walked off the street and was lucky enough to have P cut my hair. Tall, lean, strong, gentle, intelligent, interesting, well-travelled, easy-going, good-looking - just the sort of man I go for. A few days later, I was in London - I told G and M that I'd fallen in lust with my barber. I had no idea if he was gay or not but I knew that I'd be going back.

barber sign - ivory coast
The day before I next went into Jack's, I was in the Nottingham gaydar chatroom, talking crap and looking at profiles. As one does. One of them was of a rather sexy guy whose profile was linked to his partner's. Naturally, I had a look at it. Well, well, it was P, my barber. Not only was it P but it was one of THOSE profiles - lots of naked flesh, lots to look at. “Ok, so that confirms it, he is gay,” I thought. Nice to know even if he does have a partner. But, not only did I now know that he was gay but I also knew exactly what he looks like when naked. And there was no need to wonder what does it for him sexually. As a result, any fantasies that I may've had about him were swiftly put to bed. But, now I also felt slightly awkward about seeing him again. No real reason for that apart from the fact that I'd feel odd if someone knew all that sort of stuff about me without my knowing it. Silly, I know. And, anyway, if you're going to put that sort of thing in your profile, it's to be expected, right?

I made the appointment.

I still found him as deliciously sexy as before and he was as nice as before. Of course he was, there was no reason why it should be any different. He became my regular barber, eventually discovering that I'm also gay. We chatted about all sorts of things while watching the interminable MTV and extreme sports programs playing on the bank of screens that covered the wall. Every now and again, we'd even chat briefly on gaydar.

Eventually, I no longer fancied him.

If I were still in Nottingham, he'd still be cutting my hair. But, I'm not and I needed a haircut.

barber sign - ivory coastWe had an early supper last night then drove down to Selsey to visit P and G. L became friendly with them almost 20 years ago after treating P for cancer. With L's parents being in South Africa, P and G sort-of became her 'surrogate parents' in the UK. G has been cutting D's hair ever since he and L got married. I've known them for about just as long and G has cut my hair once before. On the lawn here, one sunny afternoon about 3 years ago.

Having known G for all these years, I know of his stories and I've heard many of them first-hand. But when he's cutting your hair, you have his full attention and the stories tumble out in a torrent. Some of them you've heard before but there are always new ones. He's a simple man, comes from the 'old school' and inhabited an entirely different era - his stories are never boring. His stories are gossipy but mostly entirely discreet, especially when it comes to the royals.

Once he'd finished cutting D's hair, he called through to the sitting room, "Alan, come along, I'm ready for you."

D passed me in the hallway. He looked fresh and newly cut and gave me a knowing smile that said, "Your turn to listen to G."

I walked into the kitchen, G's 'salon'. A chair was in the middle of the room, facing the small telly in the corner. The place was spotless, not a trace of D's hair to be seen. "Sit down," he said.

barber sign - ghana

Once I was seated, he placed a large barber's 'sheet' around me, fastening it behind my neck. "I know you like to ruffle it up a bit," he said and set upon me with a comb and scissors. I suppose I could have said something but it was understood that he knew what needed to be done and that was that.

G moved to London from Cambridge when he was 14 and immediately started a barber's apprenticeship at Truefitt & Hill, the world's oldest barbershop. He worked there until he retired at 59 in 1989. P had started work at Jack's a couple of month's before he'd cut my hair for the first time. He'd just returned to the UK after 7 year's of travelling abroad.

barber sign - ivory coastThe telly was turned on to the dog-racing. It wasn't loud and G didn't stop talking to me for a minute. But I knew that he was watching. At the end of some races, he'd stop cutting for a moment, still talking away. I found out that he used to own a few greyhounds that he used to race up and down the country. One of the puppies he'd bought had been reared by a breeder who used to tie an entire sheep from the rafters so that the puppies had to leap up at it when hungry. This strengthened their legs. "Never came across such a thing in my life," he said, shaking his head in amazement.

G isn't very fast with the comb and scissors. He's slow and methodical - it's just his way and has nothing to do with his dexterity. And he likes to talk. And talk. I've said that already but it has to slow him down even if he can cut and talk at the same time. If any hair fell on my face, he tended not to notice it but if I moved to brush it away, he'd stop cutting and brush it away with a small brush. Then he'd dip the brush in powder and brush behind my ears and neck.

barber sign - burkino fasoDuring G's time at the barbershop, they'd got three royal warrants - perfumers to the Queen, barbers to Prince Philip and Prince Charles. The royals never came into the premises so barbers were sent to whichever palace they happened to be residing in at the time. But Prince Michael and the Duke of Kent came in all the time. As did many parliamentarians, diplomats, famous businessmen and actors.

The pay wasn't good and the staff relied on their tips. "I remember once not taking my wages for 6 months. I left it in the office. At least then it was something,” he said, without a trace of bitterness. "All the customers were right gentlemen." He paused a while, then said, "Marvellous actor, that John Mills. He was pleasant but the staff didn't like him much. Not a very good tipper, he was.'"

"Are you almost done?" called P from the sitting room.

"Almost done," he replied.

"Alright then," she said, "put the kettle on when you're finished."

barber sign - ivory coast"The Oppenheimers used to come in all the time. Both Harry and Nicky," he carried on. "And the brilliant one, can't remember his name now. The one who married Harry's daughter. Harry told me that when the marriage went sour, he went in and said that he supposed that he wouldn't be there much longer. Harry said, 'What happens between you and my daughter is of no concern when it comes to business. You will be staying on.' Charles used to cut Harry’s hair. He insisted upon it - he was the best cutter. Many years later he retired to South Africa and he used to cut Harry’s hair there.”

(the Oppenheimers are fabulously wealthy people who control much of Anglo-American (South Africa's largest company) and de Beers, the diamond cartel)

barber's clippers

G was finished with the scissors now. He reached over to the counter for a box near the toaster. An old box, a sort of tan colour with lots of red on it. He opened it and got out a pair of manual clippers. The barber I used to go to as a child in Matola used to use clippers like those. He often used to nick my skin. P, like all modern barbers, uses an array of different electric razors. The smaller ones are used for trimming around the ears and tidying up towards the end. No fancy electric gadgets for G - I'm sure he must have got those when he did his apprenticeship!

You'll be wrong if you think that G just talked at me about himself. He asked me questions about my job-hunting, about the kids, about all sorts of things. I answered him but I kept steering him back to his own stories.

barber sign - burkino faso

I asked more about Edward Fox when I heard that he'd been going in to have his hair cut since a teenager. "What a lovely head of hair he had," said G. "He was always late, you know, and it really annoyed Tom. One day Tom said, 'I'm going to get him.' I said, 'Be careful now, don't be silly, you don't want to lose your job.' When Edward came in, Tom boomed at him and pushed him into the chair. 'You're always late, you can't do that if you want to succeed in life. What do you want to be one day?' Edward told him he wanted to be an actor. 'An actor?' he said. 'You'll never be an actor!'" G chuckled, "Tom couldn't have been more wrong!"

He didn't nick me but the clippers occasionally pulled. He apologised the one time I winced. It seemed churlish to make him apologise - I made sure that I didn't wince after that.

barber sign - burkino faso

Just before he finished, he told me how there'd been much excitement in the shop one day when they heard that Edmund Hillary and 'that Sherpa chappie' were upstairs having their pictures taken at the 'royal photographer'. The manager stopped them as they were leaving and called them into the shop. Everyone shook their hands.

"There you go, all done," he said. He brushed me off, wiped hair off my face, and powdered my neck again. I offered to clean up but he would have nothing of that. "Go look in the bathroom mirror if you like," he said. It was said as an aside, a courtesy, not as an invitation to check on his handiwork in case I wasn't entirely satisfied. I went to the bathroom.

My hair looked perfectly acceptable - staid, very conventional, not a hint of trendiness.

barber sign - ghanaTen minutes later he had joined us in the sitting room and P was in the kitchen making us tea.

We hadn't discussed music or movies. There was no talk of drugs or travel. There wasn't a hint of sexual frisson and I hadn't imagined him naked (God forbid!). P is definitely the better barber, in more ways than one, but G is the better story-teller. By a long shot!

I look forward to the next time he cuts my hair.


Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

At first I thought it a peculiar topic for blogging, which is not meant to offend. By the end I found myself wishing that I could have heard some of those stories as well. Maybe someday you'll share more.

3:59 am  

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