I wouldn’t want to be a hairdresser, it has always seemed to me to be a fairly monotonous trade, though I would never question the skills and dexterity exhibited in even the most rudimentary of barber’s shops.
I can easily invoke memories of when I was a child, and endured a monthly ritualistic visit to the barber who was well established at the corner of Granville Street where I lived in Gloucester. Ted Brint had cut hair and proffered advice in his small shop (he would have cringed at the term salon), indicated by its blood and bandages pole, for as long as anyone could remember. His loyal customers (again clientele would not have featured in his vocabulary) entirely male of course, would sit patently on the uncomfortable wooden chairs which formed an inner ring around the walls of his emporium awaiting their turn for the standard “short back and sides” which was the sole “style” on offer. For amusement, a large pile of magazines, I particularly recall Rugby World (rugby is the main religion in Gloucester), and Reveille, along with annual collections of Giles Cartoon books were strewn around the room, and were certainly useful for passing away the tedious time spent waiting. There was one elderly gentleman who always seemed to be in Ted Brint’s barbers; I never once saw him having what little hair he had cut, and I am convinced that he viewed the shop as his own personal reading room.
It is often said that smells are particularly potent in dragging up memories of our past. This I believe is true. There is a particular type of pipe tobacco; I have no idea which specific brand, which when wafted across my nostrils always brings to mind Ted Brint’s barber shop. As his scissors and comb were navigated across the heads of his customers, Ted would puff on his pipe, occasionally stopping to knock out spent dregs and recharge before recommencing his task. Occasionally a fall out of ash would land on the lap of his current victim, though I suspect he never noticed this occurrence, and I recall a number of times when he commented upon my “nasty cough”, oblivious to the fact that it was caused by a sudden inhalation of bitter smoke. It always seemed to me as a child, that the acrid smell of tobacco would remain in my clothes for the remainder of the day.
The length of time it took to cut hair was totally unpredictable in Ted’s shop. This had nothing to do with the length of the customer’s hair, or whether they requested a shave; a service applied with a lethal looking cut throat razor, but was entirely determined by Ted’s judgement of the quality of the conversation. A knowledgeable rugby man could be in that chair for an hour, or at least until the master of ceremonies decided that he was gaining no further inside information about the happenings at Tredworth, Longlevens, Matson, Gordon League or some other local rugby club. I soon learned that unless I wanted the visit to turn into a day’s excursion I said as little as possible about my recent performances on the rugby field.
Why have these memories come to my mind today? This is quite easily explained. I have just returned from having my hair cut at the local barber’s shop – this is in fact called “The Barber’s Shop” with no sense of irony intended, though today’s barbers are young women; a fact of which I suspect Ted would not have approved. These days I can be in and out of this establishment in less than half an hour, I am sure that now I pay more in a search fee than for the actual cutting, since my youthful locks are only a distant memory.
So it was that as I was returning from this latest visit to my local hairdresser, I was reflecting on the contrast of conversations between today’s establishment and those I recall from Ted Brint’s. This morning I was asked, “what do you do for a living?” “Teacher”, I replied (this is always simpler than trying to describe the role of a university professor). However, within seconds I was rueing the error of judgement that led me to make this response. For the following fifteen minutes I was subjected to a perpetual reverberation, the hairdresser hardly drawing breath as she explained to me the multiple problems with today’s schools. Lack of discipline, too much time devoted to useless knowledge (I almost rose to this bait but managed to resist), teachers who are too friendly with children, homework that parents can’t understand. In fifteen minutes I was informed of almost every ill associated with our clearly ailing education system.
Sitting as still and silent as I possibly could, fearing that the slightest comment might result in the loss of an ear, I respected the lady’s tirade until at last she finished her work with the immortal words:-
“I wouldn’t want to be a teacher, you must have the patience of a saint!”
Paying my bill and making with a sense of relief towards the door, I wondered if perhaps I should have taken the initiative and begun a conversation about Northampton Rugby Club’s excellent performances this season, or maybe asked her opinion about the suspension of Dylan Hartley, or England’s prospects in the coming World Cup?
I will store these ideas just in case the next time I go for a haircut the same lady is standing by with her scissors and low opinion of our education provision.