Written by Erskin Quint
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Monday, 9 May 2011

image for Life Sentences: Barbers There was no escape, in the cape, watching him smooth the nape.

Had my hair cut today. I went to one of these salons they have nowadays. Twenty pounds for what we used to call a short back and sides. It wasn't, though.

Short back and sides, I mean. The young chap didn't know what that was. It was all I could do to get him to understand the concept of a "trim".

I think he thought I was talking about pubic hair.

And when I say "chap", well, I won't over-egg the pudding, but what I will say is that he was, as the Brigadier used to say when I worked behind the bar at the Xenophobe's Arms, "light on his feet."

"I bet yon blighter sits down to piss", was what the Brigadier might have said, had he been there, the drunken old pervert.

He wasn't really one, to be fair. A Brigadier, I mean. He wasn't much of anything, apart from being a parasitic mountebank and a barfly. But let us not dwell on such matters.

Ah, I remember the days of the old barbers. Real characters.

There was one I used to go to. He was Beastly. Ronald Beastly, that was his name. In Cheltenham. Why I went to him, I'll never be able to work out. I was living in Torbay at the time. But nevertheless, go to him I did, as a moth is wont to fly to the flame.

"The back of the head's the most important bit", he used to say, moving the mirror across for me to admire his craftsmanship. "People don't realise."

He was making a clay model of the back of Winston Churchill's head, you see. He would work on it in between customers. He was the only barber I've ever known who used to have two customers up there at the same time. There they would sit, on either side of the clay model of the back of Churchill's head.

He never touched the customers' hair. He just used to work on his model, in between them as they sat.

"Ah yes, it's the back of the head that's the critical bit", he would say, smoothing the nape. He was always smoothing the nape. The customers would sit there for hours, watching him smooth the nape.

I don't know which was worse. Being one of the two customers sitting on either side of the clay model, or sitting at the back of the shop waiting to be called. I've been in both positions. I think, on the whole, I preferred being at the back, waiting.

You could slip out of the door, quietly. That was virtually impossible if you were up there, in one of the twin chairs, wearing one of the twin smocks. I call them smocks, but I don't know what their official nomenclature might be.

They resembled nothing quite so much as capes.

Yes, I think it was worse, being up there, wearing a cape, watching him smooth the nape. There was no escape.

As I say, I have no idea why I went there. There were plenty of barbers in Torbay.

Maybe that's it. It might have been the very profusion that drove me on in search of pastures fresh. Who can say?

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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