A bloke writes: The barber, my father and a short back and sides

MY FIRST haircuts took place in a north of England barber's shop, where the burble of Jimmy Young could always be heard from the trannie. I waited with my father on a row of wooden chairs, he having taken the Sporting Life from the magazine rack and tossed me a three-year-old Beano. Then one of the two barber's seats would become vacant, the barber would thrash at it with his white towel to clear away the hairs, and I'd nervously step forward.

"Short back and sides?" the barber would ask my dad, and my dad would give the fatal nod. There was no question of consulting me. It was only my hair, after all. I tried to distract myself from the onset of this, the unkindest cut, by looking at the display alongside the mirror and wondering: what is a styptic pencil? Or I'd gaze at the haircare products on sale, which included Brylcreem and even more Brylcreem.

After ten minutes the haircut would be finished. "Alright for you?" the barber would ask not me, but my dad, who would look up from his Sporting Life and nod. What cause could he possibly have to object? The back was short and the sides were short. It was, in sum, a short back and sides.

I always hated short back and sides. It made your head look fat and, at my school, signified the fact that you were under your dad's thumb. This was the early Seventies, and the cooler you were the longer your hair, and vice versa.

When I was about 13, some of my increasingly randy and vain contemporaries took to visiting the barber clutching a picture of, say, Robert Redford. "I want to look like that," they'd say, the fact that they might be round, spotty and four foot tall notwithstanding. The outcome, of course, was predictable: a short back and sides.

I, also, started taking on the barber. I began asking him to leave it "halfway over my ears," for example, but he never seemed to pay any attention. Once, in despair, I sat down and gave him exceptionally detailed instructions concluding, "Look, I don't want a short back and sides, okay?" Ten minutes later he was proudly showing me the back of my head in the hand mirror. Yup. Short back and sides.

So, aged 16 or so, I started going to poncier hairdressers, where they offered you a cup of coffee, and actually washed your hair before cutting it (this was always particularly sternly insisted on in my case). The great thing about these places was that, although the process might take an hour and a half, your hair often seemed to be longer when you came out than it had been when you went in. (Now that's what I call a haircut.)

I've been going to hairdressers, as opposed to barbers, ever since, but I'm getting sick of all the chat. Hairdressers talk about your hair constantly, putting it under more scrutiny than it can possibly bear; and I know that, one day, I'll be told, "You do realise you're going bald, don't you?"

And they're always trying to flog you something. "What you need on your hair," said some stylist to me the other day, "is tea tree oil shampoo." How fortunate that there was a great stack of this expensive stuff right by her elbow.

No, I think I'm going to go back to barbers, where chat is confined to two subjects: where you (the customer) are going on your holiday, and where he (the barber) is going on his. But I think I'll have to draw up a written contract beforehand, whereby I needn't pay, should the dreaded S B & S start to appear in the mirror.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.


ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

    £21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent