The barber-shop canon
WE’VE got a lot to do today,’ says Will, a few days before leaving for university. ‘I need to be a medieval jester tomorrow night. And I need a haircut.’ The first of these statements means I rig up a very peculiar pair of trousers on the sewing machine, made from a tablecloth he has bought at the charity shop and on which I notice some ancient crustiness. ‘I think this needs a wash,’ I suggest. ‘Nah, don’t bother,’ he replies. I move on to the elasticated ruff.
The second request means a chair, a bottle of wine and the kitchen scissors. ‘Have you noticed how many barber shops there are these days?’ I ask. I recently walked down a London street where there are now three, when last year, there were none. ‘Not really,’ comes the muffled response from behind a curtain of hair.
Having just revised by watching the Youtube video that first told me how to give a decent trim, I know you have to start with all the hair forward to get your baseline. I tilt my own head this way and that, but nothing seems to line up as I’d hoped. This may be because we can’t find a comb. ‘Ever thought of visiting one?’ I venture. ‘I prefer the kitchen,’ he counters.
‘And have you noticed how many women do their make-up on public transport?’ I go on, as hairdresser to client. He shakes his head: an error.
I describe the woman sitting opposite me yesterday, who made the whole transition from naked face to full mask with breathtaking skill: the base layer, foundation, spot concealer, under-the-eye bag concealer, the sculpting of cheekbones with three types of blusher, eyeshadow, eyeliner, multiple applications of mascara, lipliner and, finally, lipstick—during eight stops on the Circle line.
I know it’s rude to stare, but I don’t think it mattered as she had a sort of invisible cube around her and her phone while balancing all these items on her lap. I felt I was watching something I shouldn’t—and, to me, this performance is about as personal as getting dressed in public— but this is my problem; she couldn’t see me. ‘What’s your point?’ asks the client.
‘I think my point is that some people now commit the most personal of acts in front of strangers, but you want your hair cut in the privacy of our kitchen…’ Before I can continue with this vague train of thought, which might anyway lead to a breakdown in the client relationship, Zam returns home, having earlier left his wallet in a London taxi.
This was miraculously returned to him, because the driver found his Salmon & Trout Conservation UK membership card, rang the association, which rang his office, which rang Zam, who rang the driver and who, ‘because I’m in the area, as it happens’, agreed to meet him at Waterloo. ‘Amazing,’ I say. ‘Have you noticed how many barber shops there are these days?’ asks Zam.
The client groans at the repetitive nature of his parents’ observations and I decide to leave the rest of the haircut to a friend who is staying with us, which means neither of us can take full responsibility for what’s happening to Will’s head.
‘It’s official,’ I tell Zam triumphantly. ‘Barber shops are number one.’ I’ve looked at the Local Data Company report on shops opening and closing in the UK and barber shops top the list of the 10 most-opened shops. They are followed by mobile-phone shops, tobacconists/e-cigarette vendors, cafes, restaurants, hair salons, nail salons, beauty salons, American restaurants and health clubs. In that order.
On the most-closed list, hairdressers come ninth. I don’t know the difference between these and hair salons, but I do know that barbers are on the increase. I pour another glass of wine and look at the client. It really is time he went to one.
‘To me, doing make-up is like getting dressed in public