The old bus spluttered to a halt on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Amblemere and we were the only two passengers that descended into the drizzly rain. I was carrying the heavier of the two rucksacks which contained the sodden tent. Lisa flicked her long blonde hair out of her eyes and scowled. “Where the hell are we now.”
“Not really sure,” I replied “but you said you wanted to sleep somewhere dry and this was the first place on the map.” Lisa was not placated. She hoisted her backpack onto her back and marched off towards the centre of the village muttering darkly. I rushed to catch up and tried to placate her.
“Come on babe, it’s not that bad. We’ll find a place to stay and then get some lunch, maybe a drink or two. You’ll feel better then.”
Lisa froze and then turned on her heel to confront me. “Not that bad?” she screeched. “Days of wandering around in the rain and sleeping in muddy puddles in a wet tent, and you’re telling me it’s not that bad. I’m soaking wet and my hair looks like a haystack, I am stuck in the arse end of nowhere with a hopeless geek who looks like a scarecrow and it’s still raining and all you can say is ‘it’s not that bad’!” She glared menacingly at me and then began to cry. I tried to put a consoling arm around her but she pushed me away and continued towards the village centre. I shook my head slowly and hurried after her. It was true that this week of walking in the countryside had been my idea, but I could hardly be held responsible for the weather. Although, in retrospect, I perhaps should have not trusted the old tent to still be waterproof. And maybe it was a bit optimistic to expect my city dwelling girlfriend to suddenly take to the joys of outdoor living. Lisa was more at home sipping cocktails by the pool of a luxury hotel with easy access to a nightclub – and a hairdryer. I reflected on how the row had started the previous day. She was struggling to light the small camping stove in order to boil some water while I ograppled with erecting the tent in the wet and windy field. Suddenly, the gas flared and the flame briefly caught the end of her long blonde hair causing it to singe slightly on one side. It wasn’t really noticeable but Lisa was very proud of her hair and I knew as soon as I made the quip about it being a funny way to dry your hair that it would not be taken at all well. It led to a huge row with Lisa declaring that she was not spending any more time with a loser like me and storming off. I had to promise that we would find a hotel the next day in order to calm her down so here we were, in Amblemere beneath a brooding sky and still hardly on speaking terms.
We trudged through the puddles into the centre of the village passing an array of shops in which bored tourists had taken refuge from the weather. Eventually, we arrived at the village pub which promised food, drink and, hopefully, rooms. I prayed that they were not full as I asked if we could book a room for the night. The landlady replied that we were lucky because they had just had a cancellation for one double room due to the weather. I glanced nervously at Lisa hoping that she would not insist that we slept separately. However, she gave a small nod of assent and the room was eagerly accepted.
We dropped our backpacks in the room and changed into dry clothes. Lisa plaited her hair into two pigtails and we headed for the bar. She was still far from happy but I felt that there was a slight thawing of the ice wall that had been erected between us. Over lunch, a few initial pleasantries were exchanged and I began to comment on our fellow drinkers. After a few drinks, Lisa finally cracked at one of my inane jokes and the Cold War was over. Well almost.
“Do I really look like a geeky scarecrow?” I asked, hoping to get another smile.
“That would be unkind to both geeks and scarecrows,” replied Lisa, with a sudden note of seriousness. “When did you last get your haircut? You look like a tramp.” It was a familiar complaint. Lisa preferred a shorter, well-groomed look, while I was happy to let nature take its course. However, being anxious to avoid another argument, I conceded. “Yes, perhaps you’re right. I’ll get it cut as soon as we get home.”
“ You’ll do better that that,” Lisa snapped. “ I noticed a village barbershop by the bus stop. You can go there now and get it cut properly.” The last bit stung because whenever I did get my hair cut it was never more than a light trim which Lisa usually claimed not to even notice.
“Well, I’m not really sure,” I said uncertainly. “ These village places can be very old-fashioned and I’ll could end up scalped like that barman.” I nodded towards a young man behind the bar who had a very severe short, back and sides with white skin showing well above his ears and collar.”
“That’s tough,” Lisa replied firmly and with a thin smile. “You can either get your hair cut today, or you can sleep on your own in the tent tonight.” She then waved her empty glass towards the bar indicating that she required another drink as she resolutely folded her arms in front of her and struck a determined pout. The conversation was over and I went to the bar to consider my options. I quickly decided that I had none and when I returned with the drinks, I announced that I would comply with Lisa’s wishes.
“Good,” she said with a satisfied look on her face, “ and I will be there to make sure you get it cut properly.” My heart sank but I continued my drink without complaint. Meanwhile, Lisa disappeared to the bar to ask if there was a Ladies’ Hairdressers nearby where she could get her singed ends trimmed. She returned disappointed having been told that the only place in the village was closed for holidays. She thought for a moment and then said brightly, “ I know, I’ll ask your barber to do it after your haircut.”
“I’m not sure they cut women’s hair in these old-fashioned barbershops,” I replied. “ They can be pretty conservative.” I was still trying to get out of my own dilemma by persuading Lisa that visiting an unknown village barber might not be a good idea for either of us. “In any case,” I added, “it’s Wednesday and they probably close for half a day.”
“Nonsense!” Lisa replied. “ I only need the ends trimmed. They can’t object to that.” She thought for a moment and then said, “I know. You go there now, make sure it’s open and ask if it will be OK to do me after you. I’ll stay here and finish this drink.”
Reluctantly, I did as I was told and headed out into the misty rain back towards the bus stop. I soon saw what I was looking for and my heart sank. A red and white striped pole stuck out from a faded wooden shop front that had opaque glass windows with white letters on them announcing that it was a ‘Traditional Gentlemen’s Hairdresser’. The sign in the door confirmed that it was open, so my first hope of redemption quickly faded. I entered hesitantly and heard a bell ring somewhere in a back room. I looked around the empty shop. The walls were wood-paneled and stained with a faded brown varnish. Some old black and white pictures hung on the walls demonstrating what traditional gentlemen’s haircuts were. In a word, they were short. On one side of the room was a long wooden bench on which were scattered some well thumbed magazines and newspapers.. The black and white chequered floor was well worn linoleum. It still had the remnants of recent haircuts scattered over it, especially around the single porcelain and Chris ome barber chair that occupied most of the centre of the room. The chair was positioned in front of a large cracked sink that supported dripping brass taps and a rubber hose. The chair faced a wall mirror that was surrounded by wooden shelves on which were arrayed various oily looking potions and creams in large glass bottles. A jug of shaving soap sat alongside the sink next to a clutter of shaving brushes, razors, combs, scissors and hairbrushes. Hanging prominently next to the mirror were two brown bakelite electric clippers, one large and one small, with frayed cables leading to the wall socket. I shuddered. I had not been in such a place since I was a small boy and taken for haircuts by my Mother. I almost turned to leave and was thinking of returning to Lisa with the story that it was half day closing, but I was too late. From the back door came a middle-aged man dressed in an immaculate white shirt and tie over which he wore a brown barber jacket. He sported a finely trimmed and waxed moustache and very short hair that had been sharply oiled and parted surgically to one side.
“Can I help you young man?” he enquired in a very officious voice.
“Er well, I was thinking of getting my haircut,” I spluttered nervously. “ My girlfriend thinks it’s too long and we had a bit of a row and now she is insisting I get it cut a bit, well more than a bit really, and I can’t get to my usual salon because we are here and…” I babbled needlessly, until the barber held up a hand and said firmly, ”Your girlfriend is quite right young man. You do need a haircut and you have come to the right place. Now take a seat and I will attend to you straight away.”
“ Oh well I can’t right now because I was sent to ask if you could also trim my girlfriends ends. They got singed in the camper stove and the Ladies’s Hairdressers is closed. He looked at me suspiciously and then said. “Of course we will trim her ends. The only problem is that today is my day to play golf. My father usually stands in for me on a Wednesday afternoon if that’s OK with you.”
“Well yes I suppose so. I will go and fetch my girlfriend and come back in thirty minutes.”
“Jolly good,” the barber beamed. “Dad is a very good barber,” he beamed. “He does my hair.”
I gulped and feigned an approving smile.
“The only problem is he is a bit deaf so I will write down what you both want for him before I leave.” He winked extravagantly and opened the door allowing me to exit with some relief to the street. When I got back to the pub, the effects of the alcohol had considerably mellowed Lisa and she was genuinely happy when I told her that I had arranged for her hair to be trimmed. I tried to explain that the place was a bit primitive and that it might be better to be wait. Lisa was having none of it and waved my objections away before indicating that she wanted another drink.
Lisa finished her drink and stood up, a little unsteadily. She grabbed the hair on the back of my head and said with a slight slurring, “ Come on hairy Harry, lets get you sorted out.”
We left the bar and headed slowly back towards the barber shop. Lisa took my arm and leaned heavily on me keeping up a constant giggling banter, mostly at my expense. We eventually reached the shop and I pushed the door open causing the bell to ring again. This time however the shop was not empty. An old man was standing by the barber chair cutting the hair of a small boy. He acknowledged us with a nod and indicated that we should take a seat on the bench where another boy sat with his Mother. She looked askance as Lisa hiccuped and giggled. We sat and watched as the old barber continually ran his clippers high up the small boys head until eventually he turned to the woman and said, “Is that short enough?”
The woman nodded vigorously and loudly shouted, “Yes. That’s fine Albert.”
The deaf barber finished off quickly by scrapping a razor high above the boy’s ears and his collar before rubbing a handful of hair cream into his remaining hair and fashioning a sharp parting on the side of his head. The boy was uncaped and hair tumbled to the floor. He rubbed the back of his head and seemed surprised at how high he needed to go to find any stubbly hair. I was horrified but Lisa grinned and said, “That’s so cute.” The other boy took his place in the chair and the old barber turned to the Mother and said, “Same again?”
The woman nodded vigorously again and said loudly, “Yes, the usual please.”
The boy was quickly caped an the barber began combing clumps if hair sideways and upwards before chopping them off with his scissors. His hair fell rapidly to the cape. Lisa sat mesmerized watching the carnage and searched in her bag for her phone so I that she could take a photo. She suddenly jumped up and shouted, “oh damn, where’s my phone.”
We looked around frantically for the missing phone and decided that she must have left it in the bar. The old barber was quite unaware of the commotion going on behind him and carried on cutting the boy’s hair. He picked up the large set of clippers and popped them on with a click. They sprang to life with a loud buzzing and the barber pushed the boy’s head forwards. I told the panicking Lisa that I would go back to the bar to look for her phone and set off at a jog.
I found the phone quickly and headed back to the barber shop at a slow walking pace. As I entered my nostrils were again assaulted by the smells of shaving my soap, hair cream and tobacco smoke. The noise of the clippers filled the room. I searched the waiting bench but there was no-one there. The old barber smiled at me and continued to buzz away at the inclined head of the person in the chair. I sat down on the bench and immediately saw a long plaited blonde pigtail on the floor. I stared at it hard and then at the mirror. The person in the chair was Lisa and the barber was rapidly stripping the hair off the back and sides of her head. On the floor on the other side of the chair was the second braid and clumps of blonde hair were raining down onto the cape. In my panic, I shouted “No!” But the old man just smiled and nodded dumbly at me. I stared again at the mirror and realised, to my horror, that Lisa had fallen asleep.
Just at that moment the door to the shop opened and the first barber appeared.
“Rain stopped play,” he offered by way of explanation and then he saw the look of horror on my face. At that moment, Lisa stirred and said “Hi honey. Did you get my …” Further comments were halted as a loud scream pierced the air. Lisa looked in horror at her reflection in the mirror and her hands moved up to confirm what her eyes had seen. The old barber started back and looked surprised at the commotion around him.
“What are you doing?” shouted his son. “You are just supposed to trim the ends.” To demonstrate his point he took a piece of paper from beside the sink on which he had written the instructions for his deaf father. It said ‘First customer – short, back and sides. Second customer – Trim singed ends’
The old man still looked confused but the mistake was obvious. Lisa had sat in the chair first because I had left to find her phone. I tried to explain that it was an honest mistake, but she began to sob. I turned to the younger of the two barbers for help.
“ I could try to shape it up a bit if she wants, you know – a sort of short bob.”
Lisa sobbed more. I put my hand on her shoulder and she suddenly stopped. She glared furiously at me and said “You bastard. You set me up with this butcher.” She pointed at the middle aged barber. “You,” she said, “tidy this mess up and then make sure he gets a proper haircut. You, “ she spat and pointed at me, “sit over there and wait.”
I meekly did as I was told and the deaf old barber retired to the back room while his son put on his overall and began to comb what was left of Lisa’s hair. He combed Lisa’s hair in several directions before picking up a pair of scissors and carefully crafting a bowl cut high above her ears and neckline. He tidied up the sides with clippers, removed the cape and stepped back as if admiring a masterpiece. Lisa rose and moved towards the mirror to make a few adjustments with her hand. I thought I detected a faint hint of smile and said, “That looks great.”
Wrong move. She turned on me a glared, “Great? I look like a freak and you say ‘That’s great’. Just how much of a cretin are you?”
The barber shuffled nervously and held out the cape beckoning me to the waiting chair. I looked at Lisa and she pointed angrily to the chair. I shuffled across and sat down to be caped.
“Short back and sides?” The barber looked nervously at Lisa, not bothering to solicit my opinion.
“No way!” She spat, “ I want him to have a high and tight buzzcut. Do not spare the clippers.” She sat behind the chair so that I could clearly see her in the mirror. The barber set about his work with relish and soon my hair was dispatched to the floor leaving a layer of stubble on my head. The was soon reduced to bare skin on the back and sides as the razor was dragged across the stubble. The barber looked at Lisa and there was a sense of tension in the air before she smile and said, “Perfect.”
I exchanged glances with the barber who removed the cape and allowed me to rise. I felt my head which was strangely light. The lack of hair was a shock but not as much of a shock as when Lisa walked over, smiled, kissed me and whispered, “Let’s go to bed.”