I’ve just come back from the hairdressers. They say the internet and social media have killed the art of conversation. Nowhere would you appear to get better confirmation of this than at the barbers. Second only to the deathly wisdom of the taxi driver, the hairdresser has brought chat down to a new level of banality.
That’s if you can get a word out of them in the first place. Sometimes the silence gets so bad you’d do anything for a snipper to utter an immortal, 'And something for the weekend, sir?' But that would be ironic and irony tends to be in short supply in the British hairdressing salon of the 21st century.
In my book, men who pay a small fortune to get their hair cut are either mad or dodgy. Being a tight wad who resents going over the £10 mark to get what is left of my locks sorted, maybe I have only myself to blame for the poor levels of chat. Maybe at Nicky Clarke or Vidal Sassoon they all provide rich, witty repartee the like of which has not been heard since Oscar Wilde. But I doubt it.
For some time I attended a really scrofulous old Sicilian who whiffed, didn’t clip his nails and never cleaned out his clippers. This guy was seriously depressed (wouldn’t you be if you spent your life elbow deep in dandruff and Magic FM?) and would sit in his window cursing the recently imposed parking restrictions outside his shop which were strangling the business. His head was filled with conspiracy theories covering everything from Sainsbury’s through the masons to the medical profession.
He had had enough of cities and had bought a bungalow in Westgate-on-Sea to which he escaped at weekends to breathe proper air and meet polite people. One line of dialogue he emitted I shall never forget. It was pure Dickens and David Mamet combined. 'I’ll tell you,' he breathed, 'It’s a jungle out there without the forest. But the country’s another fish.'
Tiring of seriously low rent hair work, I then attended 'Croppers' for a while, an all-female outfit where I was seen to by Denise. Women barbers, it must be said, are slightly better but rarely get beyond anything more promising than ,'You not working then today?' Maybe they’re just concentrating on the job. I tried everything to get Denise out of the tete-a-tete starting blocks. Uncontroversial: weather, holidays. Mildly controversial: troublesome business neighbours, men, bit of X Factor. No dice. A few grunts and sighs and that was it.
Next I tried this Greek Cypriot guy, Chris, who played John Lee Hooker CDs, an improvement on the usual 'Talk Radio.' His handiwork was passable and nobody laughed when I exited onto the street wiping the loose hairs from my collar with the man-sized sheet of Kleenex. Foolishly, however, on one visit I mentioned that I’d been sent years back to write a story in Cyprus. In the mirror I could see him stiffen and he clutched the Number Four sheep clippers with added intensity. 'Jesus… those Turks,' he hissed. 'When they invade, you know what they did? They shit in our churches, they sheeeet in our churches!!' Over on the customer’s waiting couch his boxer dog stopped its ceaseless licking of its privates. The mention of the 'T' word had unsettled him as well.
My haircuts with Chris were never quite the same after that. Following a particularly savage chew which left me looking not unlike the hero of 'Eraserhead,' I decided to give his partner a try who ran the adjacent chair. He was a moody guy with long greased hair in a leather waistcoat. If you turned up early in the morning he looked like he needed heart massage before he could wield the rear view mirror. I always thought he seemed like a man with too much on his mind. Then suddenly on about visit three, after two near-silent cuts, it all spilled out.
He had been having a bit of a marital. In fact he’d been having the Mother of all Maritals. Him and his wife had been having a few problems for a while - the kids were upset and playing up at school. He’d temporarily left home. Then one day he came back and found her in bed with another bloke. 'And then?' I enquired. 'Went at ‘em with a kitchen knife,' he replied. 'She called the police and I’m up on a ‘with a deadly weapon’ the week after next.'
So, there I am - at close quarters with a Sweeney Todd Mark Two who was at that very moment brandishing his cut throat to get rid of the bum fluff above the collar. 'Have you got a good solicitor?' I squeaked from under the apron. 'Nah,' he replied. 'I’m gonna represent myself. Tell them what really happened.' I paid my £8.50 and haven’t not had the pleasure of sharing the sofa with that slavering boxer dog since.
Anyway, Happy Xmas to you all and a prosperous New Year.