I know thee not old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester.
Henry IV Pt 2
Having been a member of the thin-grey-hair faction for many years, follicle care has noticeably slipped from my list of priorities as time goes by.
Why is it that so many of our routine self-maintenance tasks end up getting postponed as long as we think we can get away with it?
I seem to have so many of these it is a wonder I get much done at all, and my catalogue of improbable excuses for not doing some of them gets longer and more absurd by the day. My worse example, is the amount of “pittin aff” I use to dodge getting a haircut, not of course that I have an abundant thatch to tax the barber`s shears. In recent times however, my carefully cultivated Oor Wullie look had morphed into an uncanny resemblance to Rowan Williams so I had to do something about it.
I`m afraid I still retain a slight residue of old army attitudes, harking back to times when regardless of the state of a soldier`s barnet, any chance contact with an NCO routinely began with orders to get a hair cut forthwith.
Had anyone meekly obeyed such instructions, they would have spent most of their waking hours in a queue of similar victims at the camp barber-shop, and at the same time suffering a hair reduction sufficient to give the impression of an alopecia victim.
The slap-head look of today is all rather functional but in the 1960’s, it would not have been considered an asset in attempts to attract the attention of young ladies; more so after the Beatles and Roy Wood burst on to the music scene
Eventually I ran out of excuses, so after wandering past the barber shop door, peering in to see how many were waiting and calculating if I had time to get the job done, I sidled in and sat down in one of the nice comfy chairs.
Within two minutes, having read all that was worth reading in a Glasgow-based tabloid newspaper lying about, I was in some danger of dozing off, struggling to keep my eyes open to avoid the ultimate horror of losing my place in the queue.
Browsing magazines and newspapers is the accepted way to occupy waiting time in barber shops: has anyone ever conducted a survey to establish how many copies of the National Geographic Magazine end up in waiting rooms?
It also pays to stay alert for titbits of local gossip or information passing between barber and client, or if they require “something for the weekend”. There is a popular belief that a ladies’ hairdresser performs something of a confessional role, and of course I can’t confirm or deny this notion, but I suppose in certain circumstances this might also be the case in barbershops although so far nothing really interesting has emerged.
There is, however, a certain peace for those in the barber shop queue; as soon as another customer enters the shop, one is no longer last and thus locked into a system in which only the most urgent of reasons can justify a premature departure.
Bolting from a barbershop queue is seen as the ultimate act of cowardice in some societies. In a haircut establishment I used to frequent many years ago, customers sat on long hard wooden benches, and as the guy at the head of the queue rose to sit in the hot seat, everyone moved up one place by sliding along.
Over the years the bench acquired a superb shine from thousands of trouser seats, although just how anyone can remove wood splinters from that part of their anatomy without intimate assistance remains one of life’s great mysteries.
In any small community, most men know each other well; many of them were at the same school, worked in the same industry, played the same sports and so on, so a barber shop is a fine place to learn of recent illnesses, deaths, departures, jailings and domestic changes with an accuracy reliable enough to warn others when to dust off the dark suit or strike someone off the Christmas card list.
At other times careful listening has given the news of the brambles being ready, where wild mushrooms can be found, and the best time to watch salmon leaping the cauld.
I sometimes think if I were a news reporter on a local title I would linger in barbershops on a frequent basis as part of my trade, but I fear that might automatically create suspicion and kill conversation stone dead.
Of course, it is not considered manly to take any great interest in the actual haircut process. Although times are changing, it has never been customary to waste the barber`s time with detailed instructions as to the style or shade of one`s crowning glory.
I suspect a customer`s request for “the usual” will always suffice even if it is five years since he last appeared at the door, although there is a universal understanding of the request for “nice and short” given by those who seek value for money.
It could be that British barbers have evolved into a fiercely independent breed and, regardless of anything other than emphatically delivered instructions from the customer, they will decide what is best for him, which is maybe the best way.
It is also the main reason why no sane person ever seeks any dispute with the guy wielding the shears: retribution can be awesome and difficult to disguise, regardless of the belief that the difference between a bad and a good haircut is only nine days.