Commentary: The Haircut Chronicles

Commentary: The Haircut Chronicles
File photo/CHEK
A barber and a client both use masks at Jimmy's Barber Shop in downtown Victoria on May 19, 2020.

My hairdresser has finally agreed to service me, which is a great relief since my wife, bless her, was preparing to cut my hair for me and THAT would have been beyond a disaster. I’ve seen what she can do with a pair of scissors and it is seldom a pretty sight.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I am even slightly vain or that my wife is in any way cack-handed but when you get to my age any part of the anatomy that hasn’t completely atrophied is worth protecting. And my hair, a delicate confection of spun gold and silver, is almost a national treasure and deserves better than the ministrations of someone more acquainted with pruning shears and small axes.

Mind you, it was touch and go. Procuring an appointment with my lady barber, mid-pestilence, was a bit like fixing an appointment with the head of CSIS and actually getting a place in her revolving chair carries all the ritualistic rigmarole of joining the Freemasons. She will be masked, and I will be masked which presumably precludes getting my beard trimmed or my nose hairs tamed. Only one person may be in the salon at any one time (presumably one person plus the hairdresser…) and I’m not allowed to bleed or scream if she inadvertently stabs me with her scissors because she is working at arm’s length.

But it will be worth it. Rachael (for that is her name) is an ace with the scissors and in my opinion, gives the finest haircut on the planet. And let me tell you, I’ve had some monstrous haircuts in my time. One, in particular, comes to mind, in Helsinki, which was so truly awful my wife was reduced to tears when I arrived home looking like Friar Tuck.

On another occasion, this time in London where I was in such a hurry that I hadn’t realized I’d agreed to have my hair cut by some tonsorial Michelangelo, an “international stylist” who gave me a half-decent cut and then charged me more than ÂŁ100 ($170 in real money) for it. I was so traumatized by the bill I had to be anesthetized for my next haircut…

But coiffures have come an exceptionally long way since the days of the short, back and sides, extra Brylcream (“A little dab’ll do yah”), and “Something for the weekend, sir?” I don’t know if these are purely English euphemisms, but the first described the only, abominable haircut most barbers were capable of giving back then  and the second was the sale of a pack of prophylactics in a time when it was assumed intimacy only took place on your days off.

And it was unthinkable a chap would submit to the ministrations of a WOMAN. The barber’s chair was a male sanctuary where the discussions were about football, cars and “what a bloody shower the government was,” while the ladies were elsewhere under driers, their hair peroxided to within an inch of its life, discussing knitting patterns and their monstrous husbands.

Things weren’t all bad, though. For an extra shilling, you could get a “Boston” which marked you out as a person to be reckoned with and involved the barber trimming your hair at the back into a straight line instead of the usual turkey wattle of shaved neck and bloody nicks. And for the uber-trendy there was the “DA” in which the barber cut your hair at the back into a “V”. Incidentally, DA was an abbreviation for “Duck’s Arse” which is what it resembled and was much frowned on by decent society. It was a fashion for Teddy Boys, Rockers and spivs and not wholesome young men whose parents knew better.

And God knows nobody knew better than my dad when it came to tonsorial massacres. Only Sweeney Todd, the Mad Barber of Fleet Street, was more frightening than my father with a pair of hair clippers which he invariably ordered from the small ads in the Sunday tabloids. He figured that 10 shillings on a Heath-Robinson contraption of comb and razor (“Cut hair like an Italian professional!”) was good for at least 20 hair cuts at a shilling each at the barber. Never mind that my brother and I looked like Dickensian waifs, he was saving a small fortune, but it was especially miserable for my younger brother who had ears that were a hazard in a high wind and stood out from his head like a pair of dockside cranes.

Dad only had one style – short. His many years as a warrant officer in the Royal Air Force had convinced him that any haircut that ended anywhere close to the top of the ear was the slippery slope to decadence and if he didn’t leave us looking like Marine conscripts we’d soon be wanting to wear frocks.

It is my belief that the Swinging Sixties and the dawning of hippies had nothing to do with the Peace Movement, Free Love or hallucinogenic drugs but was more to do with a generation finally escaping the Demon Barbers and their dad’s DIY haircuts. Why, it’s come so far from the short, back and sides that it wouldn’t surprise me to eventually see men sporting ponytails!

This column was previously published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood.

Paul McElroy retired to Salt Spring Island nine years ago at the end of a 40-year career in journalism in the UK, Australia and in Canada. He now writes a regular column for the Gulf Islands Driftwood.

Would you like to write for CHEK’s commentary section, Voices? Click here to learn how. 

Paul McElroyPaul McElroy

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!