Uncle Clive and the barber, a Mr Harris, seemed to be getting on famously. I tried to concentrate on reading an old copy of Autosport I’d found among a pile of dog-eared magazines on a table in the corner. We’d been out walking that morning, so I was wearing my brief hiking-shorts, thick short socks and boots. I’d offered to meet Uncle Clive later at the B&B we were staying at, but he had insisted that I come with him. It would be fair to say that I was in a bit of a sulk. I would much rather have been anywhere than sat in a barber’s shop listening what to my ears sounded like the inane chatter of my uncle and the barber.
Uncle turned to face me and spoke: “So what do you think then, Mark?”
“Err, it’s okay, I suppose…” I replied quietly, noncommittally and anxious not to get involved in a conversation about haircuts. As I said, I knew Uncle Clive didn’t approve of mine, although he’d not said any more about it, let alone suggest I do anything about it.
“Mr Harris has done a first class job, I think,” he continued, as he admired the cut in the mirror.
“Thank you sir, it’s been a pleasure,” the barber replied as he flicked the last couple of hairs from Uncle Clive’s shoulder.
Uncle nodded in my direction and addressed Mr Harris: “What’s your opinion of Mark’s hair, Mr Harris.”
“I can’t say that I’m impressed, sir,” he replied as he cast a professional eye over what I thought of as my stylish head of hair. I was pleased with the way my fringe flopped forwards over my eyes and how at the back my hair brushed against my shirt collar (The longest we were allowed to grow it in the fifth form). Why should it concern anyone else if my hair came down over my ears? I was proud of the way my hair looked and I didn’t like to hear anyone criticising it.
To my consternation Uncle Clive agreed: “My sentiments entirely… Mark’s hair isn’t usually as long as this.”
Mr Harris continued: “I take it you do not approve, sir.”
“No, Mr Harris I most definitely do not approve.”
“Then, sir, might I suggest that a full short back and sides with no arguments for this young man is called for?”
Pathetically I tried to intervene, whinging like a little boy: “Pleeease Uncle Clive, I had my hair cut a couple of weeks ago, honest I did… Pleeease uncle…”
“No Mark, I am afraid your hair is far too long. I simply don’t believe your school would countenance such untidy hair.”
The barber added his support: “Precisely, sir…”
“But it’s my hair,” I pleaded, in a last desperate attempt to put a stop to this before it got completely out of hand. “Please uncle can we go now?”
“It wouldn’t take me more than a few minutes to tidy him up, sir.” Mr Harris wasn’t about to let me escape what he clearly thought was an overdue appointment for me with his barber’s chair. “No trouble at all, sir.”
“Please Uncle Clive… Pleeease!”
“No Mark… Mr Harris is right… Your hair is a disgrace… it needs a proper trim.”
“But Uncle Clive”
Mr Harris took control: “That’s enough from you young man. You are having your haircut whether you like it or not. Your Uncle has decided it’s best, so I suggest you keep quiet and behave yourself and do as you are told.”
“I hope you are listening to Mr Harris, Mark… you may be nearly sixteen and think you are grown up, but while you’re with me you will do as you are told…”
Stunned, I could barely murmur: “No, Uncle Clive…”
Mr Harris acted as if he heard this everyday and merely said: “Shall I take it from here, sir?”
“If you would be so kind” Uncle Clive replied.
“If you, sir, would like to sit in that chair over there, sir” he said pointing to one of the chairs that lined the side-wall of the shop, “That will give you a very good view of the haircut but the boy will not be able to see you in the mirror”
“Very good, Mr Harris…”
“That way he is less likely to be distracted. Obviously I want him to be concentrating on doing exactly as I tell him and having his haircut and keeping his head still…”
“It also might make Mark feel less self conscious if he can’t see me watching you at work…”
“Oh, I don’t think we need overly concern ourselves with the boy’s feelings, sir,” Mr Harris said with a chuckle.
“Right Mark… up you get and do exactly what the barber tells you.”
I did as he said and he prepared me to have my haircut. Mr Harris swept the gown with a flourish over my head and it settled down, engulfing me in the all-pervading smell of a barber’s shop. He drew the gown up around my neck and tied it tightly before tucking some tissue paper between it and the nape of my neck. My arms were covered by the gown and I was under orders to behave myself. I looked at myself in the mirror to see my disembodied head ready for the attentions of Mr Harris.
He spoke to Uncle Clive; pointedly not to me: “So sir, are we both in agreement… a full short back and sides for the boy…”
“When you say full short back and sides Mr Harris you mean very short?”
“Indeed I do, sir. Cut very short all over with scissors and thinned out. No silly pretend sideboards like he has here…” Mr Harris pulled at the long hair that hung in front of my ears, “…and then a no nonsense clipping, back and sides.”
“When you say ‘no nonsense’… perhaps short… not too severe to begin with, Mr Harris.”
“Certainly, sir… Just as you say, sir… not too severe and we’ll see how it goes, shall we?”
Mr Harris addressed me: “Right young man, I shall begin,” and he turned to pick up a pair of long steel scissors.
My haircut began and within seconds large curls of my thick mousey-blond hair began to fall into my lap. As Mr Harris snipped away expertly with his scissors, he and Uncle Clive chatted to each other. Ignoring me they talked mainly about our walking holiday. They had really got on well whilst uncle had his haircut earlier, almost like old friends, and now the barber suggested some of the lesser known local hikes for us to explore. I kept quiet knowing that I was to sit perfectly still and not to speak so the barber could snip my hair as he talked.
I found it very uncomfortable because the barber did not brush the loose hairs away from my face which really tickled. My arms were of course trapped underneath the big gown, but in any case I wouldn’t have dared to brush the hairs away with my hand. Mr Harris did eventually give me a brush down as I screwed up my face, before he selected a pair of thinning scissors prior to the next stage of my haircut.
“So far so good young man,” he said, “Now these will tug at your hair and you may feel some discomfort, but this is a very small price to pay for the benefits of nice well thinned out hair, is that understood”
“Yes sir” I replied meekly.
“Do not move your head.”
Mr Harris started to chop my hair with the thinning scissors and I watched in horror as big clumps of it fell into my lap. I was sure he was about to give me a ‘Yul Brynner’, which is what we used to call a bald head in those days. He cut my hair so closely that I could feel the scissors pressing against my skull as he worked away. Once he was satisfied that he had cut off sufficient hair he put the scissors down and gave me a good brush down. I sneaked a look at myself in the mirror and was relieved to see that Mr Harris had left me with some hair.
Mr Harris looked over at Uncle Clive.
“Is everything to your satisfaction so far, sir?”
“Definitely, Mr Harris.”
“Quite a transformation, sir…”
“It certainly is…” Uncle Clive concluded, “Now… with regard to the clipping he is going to have…”
“Yes sir, that’s what I will be doing next,” Mr Harris confirmed, “… in fact I was about to bend his head down in preparation, sir…”
“I wonder if perhaps a little tickle with the clippers might suffice?”
“I understand what you are saying sir. Perhaps you would like me to clip the back and sides of his head lightly… more of a token.”
“That’s it, Mr Harris.”
“I know, sir… and you don’t want to be the heavy handed Uncle, but, if I may say so, the boy has the opportunity to have an experienced barber take care of his hair…”
“That’s an admirable idea, Mr Harris. I know your recommendation for my nephew to have a no nonsense clipping makes perfect sense, but… I think it best for me to absent myself until it’s finished.”
He switched them on and the warm buzzing contrasted with the cold metal as the clippers touched my neck. I shivered…
He then stood back and surveyed his work.
“Well young fella m’lad I don’t mind saying that I couldn’t improve on this haircut if I wanted to… You are now the proud possessor of a traditional boy’s short back and sides.”
What else could I say, but: “Thank you, sir…”