Thursday, May 17, 2007

17 May 2007: Number Four

Got some strange looks walking through the level four lab this morning.

Simple enough reason: been to Mauro's again. And this time the radical haircut is nothing to do with Italy losing at football/rugby/World War II (delete as applicable) but instead I actually went in there and asked for "four on the top, two on the sides". The reason for this near-shaven buzz-cut is not that I've decided to audition for Ewan McGregor's role in 'Trainspotting', but instead I'm in for some brief head surgery on Monday where a local doctor will take a rusty scalpel and attempt to remove a sebaceous cyst from the top of my dome. A nice short haircut now means that it'll all grow back roughly together after the event... at least that's the theory.

But what it reminded me of, and devotees of previous incarnations of this missive (such as the Street Level Reports of 1997/98) will know about this, was the barber shop I used to go to when I first moved to London. Back in those days, a fresh-faced graduate from Southampton University's Department of Politics, I had relatively lengthy hair, which I didn't worry about getting cut until I'd been in London some two months. Eventually, however, the hair-in-the-eyes syndrome necessitated either something to tie it all back with, or a haircut, and I went with the chop option.

Of course it was one thing deciding to get a haircut, another entirely trying to find the right place. Hoxton, a small highly diverse corner of Hackney, featured roughly three such establishments. One had constantly-closed red curtains in the window, which scared me witless; the second, down by Old Street station, seemed to be shut most of the time. So on a dark Thursday evening in November, at about 6.30pm, I wandered into 'Dad's Unisex Hair Salon' on Hoxton Street, sat down and awaited my turn.

There were four barber chairs in the place, and three barbers working. I was fourth in line, so figured it wouldn't take too long to get me in and out. At one point, a small boy (maybe six years old) shouted at one of the barbers, "I'm next, innit?" and said barber instead pointed around the room, saying "It's 'im, then 'im, then 'im, then 'im, then you." My place in line was secure.

Two hours later I got to sit in the chair. I don't know why it took so long, but the sign on the wall saying "Barbers need a break too" seemed to be a statement of policy rather than a two-minute breather every so often. That said, the atmosphere in the place was fantastic. The humour was ongoing, and I was included in it even though I'd never been there before, and the older gentleman proprietor ("dads" was what they all called him) reminded me sufficiently of Norman Beaton to make me wonder if, despite being outside Peckham, the comedy show 'Desmond's' might actually be partly based on this place.

But I digress. I sat in the seat nearest the window and Andy set to work on my hair. Now, what I haven't mentioned so far, unless you picked it up from the Desmond's comment, was that this was something of a not-very-racially-integrated shop. In fact, I was the only white person there. Which was fine with me, and with them, but it meant one thing: Andy was not very confident when it came to cutting my lengthy, lifeless locks. His first comment, as I sat in the chair and he picked up a handful to begin the process was: "How am I supposed to cut this?" "Wiv' scissors," grinned Keith, working at the next seat along. "Man," replied Andy, "It's like cuttin' the grass, innit?"

Fully an hour later I emerged from the shop with a haircut akin to the one I sport today. Andy never actually did use scissors, but buzzed his way over my head several times until he was happy. Took forever, it seemed, but it was an experience I'll never forget. Over the months that followed I went back many times, usually during the day when it was less busy, and usually had a different barber each time. (How many of them worked there? I'll never know.) The one constant was the haircut: no matter what I asked for, however I asked for it, I would always get the buzz-cut, usually grade four on top and two on the sides. 'Dads' would occasionally play around with scissors before giving up and going to the buzzing machine, the others just got straight on with it.

After about three years of this, a gentleman from the flat upstairs informed me that the barber near Old Street station actually was pretty good and if you went at 8am he'd be open and willing. I tried it, got a normal haircut for a change, and never went back to Dad's. Mauro seems to be the Southampton equivalent of George, the barber from Old Street, except from Italy rather than Cyprus, and so I've been happily going there since moving back to the south coast.

Today, however, reminded me of those happy, bizarre days at Dad's when no matter what you asked for, you knew what you were going to get.


andym said...

Reminds me of my childhood...

My abiding reluctance to get my hair cut comes from my experience with the 'Barbers' by Dad used to take me to. Friendly people, but no matter what you asked for, you always got the same Boys Haircut (which was always woeful, 20 years out of date, and liable to ridicule in the playground).

I always wonder how these places do any business! I guess because people like you go back by choice...!

DuncMcRae said...

Ha ha! Actually Dad's does a thriving business with the Afro-Caribbean population of Hoxton.. despite their claim to specialise in 'European' haircuts as well, I never saw anyone else go in there with a euro-style haircut. Certainly nobody ever came out with one.

Rob said...

Wow.. i'm currently sporting a '1 all over' - Should have grown to '1 and a half' when i see you next weekend!