“…. and not just a little trim, I want it cut short and smart!”
Steve looked at the last line of Mrs Saunders’ email and groaned. It was Wednesday morning, and he would be going to a company convention with his boss later. They didn’t need to leave until 11 o’clock, and he had thought he would have some free time this morning. The email that had just popped into his inbox had changed that though. The opportunity to go and represent his company at the convention was far too good to be missed, but it seemed there was going to be a price to pay. His boss was insisting that he presented a good image of the company, and according to her, that meant that his trendy surfer locks would have to go.
He briefly wondered whether a slightly shorter version of his current cut, or even a different, but still trendy cut would suffice, but in his heart he knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. For one thing, he wouldn’t get away with it; Mrs Saunders’ emphasis made it clear that she wanted to see him in the kind of haircut that his mother would approve of; a no-nonsense short back and sides, neatly combed into a side parting. He could easily imagine Mrs Saunders marching him down to the nearest barbershop for a supervised cut if she wasn’t happy with the way he looked.
His Mum was another reason that he couldn’t just have a little trim. Barbara had in fact been quite forthright only last night about exactly how she wanted Steve to have his hair cut. He had made the mistake of telling her proudly that not only had Sarah had her hair permed, but that she would be attending his Grandmother’s birthday on Saturday with her hair in a smart and conservative shampoo and set. Barbara had been very pleased to hear this, but had promptly set about telling Steve that she hoped that he wasn’t going to disappoint her by turning up on Saturday with what she described as his ‘long, scruffy hair.’ She had even threatened to take him to the barber’s herself if he wasn’t looking ‘neat and tidy’ by Saturday morning. Steve wasn’t sure how serious she was, but he was sure that both she and his Grandmother would be extremely disappointed if he didn’t make a serious effort to smarten himself up for the big occasion.
Finally, there was Sarah to consider. She had happily sacrificed her own sassy, trendy image, along with most of her hair, in order to look smart and presentable for Steve’s family, even going so far as to have an old-fashioned tight perm. Surely the least that he could do was to have his own hair cut short so that he looked neat, tidy and respectable? Even though Sarah hadn’t said anything about his hair, other than teasing him about the old picture when she had been shown the family photo albums, surely she would appreciate it if he looked as smart as she did on Saturday?
This final thought clinched it, and with the thoughts of Sarah uppermost in his mind, Steve set off into town, heading not for his usual trendy hairdressers, where he could certainly get a cut that he would be comfortable with, but was unlikely to get one that would make his boss, his mum and his girlfriend happy. Instead, Steve was heading for the older, shabbier end of the high street, where he knew there was a long-established traditional barber’s.
A bell jangled as Steve walked into the shop, and the barber glanced up from where he was sitting, reading a newspaper. He looked to be in his early sixties, and was wearing a pristine white barber’s jacket, with his comb and scissors in the top pocket. His white hair was cut short and neat, and perfectly combed, with a ramrod straight parting on the left hand side. It was exactly the kind of haircut that Steve knew his mother would like to see him with, and he wondered if he was brave enough to ask the barber to cut his hair that way, or whether he would end up with it, whether he asked for it or not!
“So, what are we doing today then?” asked the barber as Steve sat down gingerly in the big black leather chair.
“Well,” he began, taking a deep breath “It’s my grandma’s birthday and she likes us all to look smart, so…….” He tailed off, not quite knowing how to finish.
The barber fastened the cape snugly around Steve’s neck, waiting for him to finish, but when Steve remained silent he decided that he would have to take charge.
“So it’s a good tidy up then? Get you looking nice and smart for Grandma?”
“Yes please” replied Steve, well aware that he had no idea what ‘a good tidy up’ and ‘nice and smart’ might mean to the barber, but still grateful that the decision had been taken out of his hands.
The barber began spraying Steve’s hair with water, and briskly pulling a comb through his long locks. Steve did his best not to wince as the comb fought its way through some knots.
“That’s the problem with long hair” put in the barber cheerfully. “It gets tangled so easily. Don’t worry though, you’ll find that short hair is much easier to look after, as well as looking smart.”
Steve felt his hair being firmly parted down the left side of his head, and then flinched slightly as the barber, wasting no time, brought a loudly buzzing set of clippers up behind his right ear.
“I’m just getting rid of all this bulk at the back, then I’ll take the top down nice and short, and make you look presentable. I suppose it’s a long time since you had a proper haircut in a barbers?”
“Er, yes, I suppose so”
“Well I’m sure that Grandma will appreciate you looking neat and tidy for her birthday. A proper short back and sides will make you look very respectable. Just the thing to impress her.”
Steve gulped. So he was getting ‘a proper short back and sides’ from this thoroughly old-fashioned, no-nonsense barber. Whilst he was pretty sure that he would end up with a haircut that he wouldn’t have chosen, he should at least be making his Mum and Grandma happy, and his boss should also be satisfied that he had submitted to a neat and tidy clippering, and would be looking extremely smart and respectable at the convention. He was starting to have misgivings about Sarah’s reaction – she had, after all, met him with long surfer locks tumbling over his collar – but he hoped that if she didn’t like it, she would at least appreciate that he had needed to have his hair cut both for Grandma’s birthday, and for work.
Of course, if Sarah did like his hair short and smart, then Steve might find himself back in the barber’s chair for a short back and sides on a regular basis. He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about this. Whilst he had enjoyed wearing his hair in its previous long, fashionable style, it had always caused friction with his mother, whose respect for traditional values made her adamant that her family should always look as smart as possible, and in particular that the boys and men should keep their hair cut short. Steve would certainly enjoy the fact that he was no longer being nagged to get his hair cut, and if keeping the peace at home meant keeping his hair short, then maybe that was a price worth paying.
He had also been admonished for his ‘scruffy appearance’ a number of times by Mrs. Saunders, hence her strongly-worded email this morning. It would clearly be worth keeping himself in her good books, and he was sure that she would be keen that now his hair was short, it was kept that way. And finally, once again, there was Sarah. If she did want him to smarten himself up, to keep his hair short and look like a respectable young man, then he could hardly argue with her, given how much she had toned down her own appearance. Yes, he concluded. If Sarah wanted his hair kept short and smart, he would happily make that sacrifice, and make sure that he would always look neat, tidy and respectable for her, just as she had committed to do for him.
Whilst Steve had been pondering, the barber had wasted no time. The buzzing clippers had reduced the back and sides of Steve’s formerly long hair to a crisp, even pelt, and the barber’s scissors were now efficiently snipping off most of the remaining long hair. Even before the cut was finished, Steve could tell that no concessions had been made to his obvious preference for longer hair. He had simply been given the same traditional short back and sides that the barber had given to countless conservative older men, wriggling young boys with strict mothers, and reluctant teenagers, dragged through the door by exasperated parents for unwanted back-to-school, family wedding or first communion haircuts.
The barber put down his scissors, and picking up the thinning shears, addressed Steve once more.
“I’ve taken the top down to a more sensible length, but your hair is quite thick, so I’m going to have to use these to make sure that it stays lying down neatly for you.”
Steve then had to endure a period of uncomfortable tugging as the toothed shears fought through his remaining hair. He had to admit though, that they did their job well. When the barber stepped away allowing Steve to see in the mirror, his hair was lying flat and neat on top of his head, in a stark contrast to the thick, full locks that had adorned it such a short time ago.
“There! Doesn’t that look much better? Nice and smart for Grandma’s birthday. We’d better just make sure that it stays that way.”
With that, the barber unscrewed the lid from a red jar on the counter, scooped out a large dollop of white hair cream and proceeded to rub it firmly into Steve’s head. When he was satisfied that every hair was thoroughly coated, he once more used his comb to force Steve’s hair into a razor sharp side parting with the hair on either side combed firmly into place. The cream made his hair shiny, and also a little darker, so the clean white parting stood out even more.
Whilst Steve had not had a proper side parting, and certainly hadn’t had hair cream on, for a long time, it was hardly unfamiliar. His mother had been a stickler for keeping his hair neatly combed and parted when he was younger, and she always asked the barber to use hair cream to finish off his haircuts. Steve had also had to endure his mother applying the sticky, smelly cream every Sunday for church, and whenever else she felt that Steve needed to look especially smart. He had never really liked either the smell or the feeling of wearing it, and had almost objected to the barber, but he had hesitated briefly, knowing that his mother would want him looking as smart as possible, and then it was too late. Steve’s neck was quickly dusted off and the barber removed the cape.
Steve had put his best suit on that morning, in preparation for the convention later, but, as usual, had left his top button unfastened and his tie a little loose. Looking at himself in the mirror he realised that whilst he had thought that this looked OK at the time, it now looked completely inappropriate with his severe short back and sides. He sighed, reached up, fastened the top button and tightened his tie. He retrieved his jacket from the peg, and looked in the mirror to see the image of an incredibly smart and respectable young man.
He couldn’t quite believe how different he looked compared to when he had walked in. He was sure that both Mrs. Saunders and his mother would be delighted with the results of his visit to the barbers, and that he had complied fully with their wishes by having a proper short back and sides, rather than trying to keep his hair as long as he thought he could get away with.
Steve left the barbers, having paid (far less than at his usual hairdressers; another good reason for keeping his hair short and tidy, he could hear his mother’s voice telling him). He had also purchased a tub of hair cream, the barber having ascertained that Grandmother’s birthday was not until the weekend, and persuaded him that she would certainly want to see him with his hair looking as smart as it did now.
Steve walked back along the high street, extremely self-conscious about his appearance. Every shop window he passed showed him glimpses of himself with his hair not only cut into just the short, smart and traditional style that his mother had insisted on when he was younger, but also with the same perfectly straight side parting that he had been forced to wear, despite his protests.
He wondered why he wasn’t attracting stares from everyone that he passed, but, then again, they didn’t know that half an hour before, his immaculate short back and sides had been a scruffy collar length mop!
The shop windows also made it clear to him that it would take a very long time for his hair to grow back to anything approaching its former length, and he knew that it would inevitably look terribly untidy whilst it did. He also knew that the pressure he would get from both home and work, to keep his hair short and smart, would make it even harder to return to his long trendy locks.
On the plus side, he knew from past experience that short hair was much easier to look after; no blow drying or fancy styling required, just a few moments with a comb, and perhaps a blob of hair cream if he was required to look extra smart. He stopped at the next shop window to take a proper look at himself, and pictured Sarah standing next to him, her hair in a neat little cap of tightly permed curls, and wearing the dress she had worn to meet his parents. He was struck by just how right the two of them looked together, in his imagination, and found himself fervently hoping that she did prefer his hair short and smart, as he felt that he would now perfectly complement his girlfriend’s new, conservative appearance. His mother had been right, as he could now see. It was ridiculous for his hair to have been longer than hers when she had made such an effort to look presentable.
Steve looked at his watch. He had been hoping that he would have enough time to pop home, and shower to get the sticky cream out of his hair, and perhaps style it to look a little less formal, but he realised now that there wasn’t time. He was going to have to go straight to work, and Mrs. Saunders was going to get the full effect of his visit to the barbers, hair cream and all.
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