Master barber at the cutting edge of conversation

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GREAT Hairdressers of the World: No 1 - Vidal Castro. For as long as anyone can remember, Vidal Castro has been No 1 in Cuba. Talk of hair and you talk of Vidal. Before his revolution, hair in Cuba was safe and boring. The dictators all wore short back and sides. The Americans, who owned the place, had short back and sides. And short tops. They wore crew-cuts. They were very boring and nasty.

So in the Fifties, when Vidal Castro arrived saying that hair could be long and beards could be worn and the American look was now out, small wonder the population rose to greet him.

'There are two tests of a great hairdresser,' says Oscar Wildebeest, Professor of Applied Trichology at Milton Keynes University. 'One is the courage to create your own look. The other is the ability to talk endlessly without letting the customer interrupt. I think that Vidal passes on both counts.'

If Vidal Castro's beard is legendary, so is his ability to hold forth. Most hairdressers are content to whisper their non-stop conversation into their client's ears; who but Vidal Castro has had the courage to go on nationwide radio in Cuba and talk non- stop for four, five, even seven hours? This adapted extract from one of his more recent radio talks gives only a faint flavour of the real thing:-

'I took the week off last week, no, we didn't go away, Cuba's so nice this time of year, and what I say is, if you can't appreciate your own country you don't deserve to go abroad, right? And the palace needed a small lick of paint, yes, the old homestead, we call it the palace, my little joke, so my week off turned into a bit of do-it-yourself, but a change is as good as a feast, that's what I always say, I see Havana Rovers drew at home again last night, I reckon they've blown it now, they were on course for the championship all right, but they were too confident by half, thought the title was theirs by right, well, it's like everything in this life, you've got to work for it before you get it, I watched the first half last night on the telly, did you see it? They were hopeless, it was like watching the ballet, loads of stars wafting around as if they expected everything to be done for them, not that I've got anything against the ballet, don't get me wrong, people say that ballet dancers are just a bunch of fairies but, believe me, the sheer work that those boys get through, I used to cut the hair of a ballet dancer once, name of Alfredo, he was asleep in the chair half the time, it's the only rest I get during the week, Vidal, he used to say to me, so don't wake me up till it's over there's a good chap, and I hadn't the heart to deprive him of his beauty sleep, the thing with ballet dancers is, they've got to practise really hard just to stay as good as they are, and then of course they have to learn new ballets the whole time, I see the Oscar ceremonies are coming round again, bore of the year if you ask me, it's all sewn up beforehand by the men with the money, well, of course it is, I mean, the film industry is perfectly entitled to its own jamboree and back-slapping, but why they should expect anyone else to want to watch it beats me, it's all rigged of course, I mean, when did a Cuban film last win anything? Well, there you are then - are you telling me that American films are the best in the world? Maybe they are if you are a spotty teenager with a drug habit, a small gun and a large personality problem, but some of us out here in the real world are grown-ups who wouldn't mind seeing a grown-up film now and again, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that all American films are lousy, but they used to be a lot better than they are now, did you see that one on the telly the other night, black and white, with James Stewart, no, I tell a lie, it was Gregory Peck, anyway, nobody got shot and nobody got killed, and yet it was a great story which only goes to show . . .'

And so on, for seven incredible hours. No wonder they say that when Vidal Castro goes we shall not see his like again.