Saturday, 2 April 2011

Eaten by Sideburns

One of the most persistent obsessions of my life has been the pursuit of a perfect haircut. It has chased me down the years, skulking in dark corners; haunting my dreams.

I don’t know when it started: probably when I was a boy. In those days the family lived on hope and newspaper, and the up-keep of the family hair was the jurisdiction of my mother. In our house, the appearance of cooking sherry and a mixing bowl wasn’t an augury of trifle: no. It meant we were about to be shorn, swiftly and brutally, without regard for style, spiritual well-being, sexual ambition or personal safety.

To be fair to my mother, she did have five extremely furry kids and a whole lot of time on her hands.

Even so, the day finally came when I’d had enough. It was midsummer, and I was buggered if I was going to spend it cowering under the hood of my parka until such time as my hair grew back.

            “Mother,” I said (for ‘twas her name), “I absolutely positively refuse for one moment longer to look like a member of the Partridge family. If you are insistent upon me having a haircut, you are going to have to take me to a proper barber. Someone with proper scissors and a special chair. Someone who knows what he’s doing. Someone with the necessary skills.”

Needless to say, I was about to have a very rude awakening. If there’s one thing life has taught me, it’s that people set up as barbers because they don’t have any skills. To this day, I haven’t experienced a single gentleman’s barber who a) has any idea at all about what to do with a pair of scissors, b) has a clue as to what he’s doing, c) isn’t a surly and ignorant navvy, d) isn’t blind drunk, and e) gives a fuck either way.

A visit to a barber of this type always runs thusly: You arrive just in time to see what he’s done to the last poor bastard (short back and no sides, perhaps), and before you’ve had a chance to flick through the latest copy of Nuts or Auto Trader or Cuthroat Today and realise that you’re about to make a hideous mistake, he’s got you in the chair, wrapped in a smock and totally at his mercy. Then, with a belligerent smirk, he pops the question: “And what would Sir like today?” as if Sir has any choice in the matter at all. Let’s face it: what Sir would like is irrelevant. Sir is going to get what Sir is bloody well given.

To someone as self-obsessed as I have been, the prospect of visiting the barber brings on a hideous feeling of dread. Over time it has become a monster. I have the same fear around getting a haircut that somebody else might have around say, root canal treatment or having an amputation.

Within a couple of minutes the reality of the situation hits you in the face like a bat. You are in the hands of a maniac. With every clump of hair that falls to the floor all the things that you held dear are exploded as myths. Your faith in yourself, in human nature, in God, in goodness itself is systematically destroyed and you are left with the most barren and empty nothingness.

This is what they learn at barber college. How to destroy hope.

Then suddenly he’s finished, and proudly holding up a mirror to the back of your head so you can have a panoramic view of the devastation he’s wrought. Now you know how the land feels when they build a new by-pass through an area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s the same thing. Rape.

            “Would you like something on it, Sir?” he asks you, to which there is only one adequate answer:

            “Yes please, a pair of knickers, because you’ve cut it like a cunt.”

Naturally, it wasn’t very long before I renounced barbers, and started visiting hairdressers instead, which is an altogether more pleasing experience. There’s nothing quite like getting your head massaged between the warm breasts of a pert young lady, and that’s before you’ve even sat down. They charge about ten times as much, but hey, breasts cost money.

The problem with hairdressers is that although they – like the barber – ask you what it is you’d like done, they seem to lack understanding. The quality of the cut is better, for sure, and the vaguely titillating surroundings are second to none, but you still come out looking like Peter Andre, and let’s face it: who wants that?

So I thought it might be wise to take a picture of what I had in mind, the next time I visited such an establishment. I dimly remembered Paul Weller having a fairly tidy barnet in the late 1970s, so I typed “Paul Weller haircut” into my search engine and trawled through hundreds of photos of ill-advised and frankly embarrassing hairstyles that the Modfather has inflicted upon himself and the world over the years; not so much “hair-dos” as “hair-don’ts”, most of them. But I finally found one that ticked all the boxes, and armed with this I fared forth in high hope.

Unbelievably, the girl did exactly what I wanted. It was like finding the Holy Grail. I realised that after all those frustrations, those bitter disappointments; after all those years of fear, of resentment, of fruitless searching, that I had finally found what I’d always been looking for; that there was such a thing as the perfect haircut, and that this was it.

My hair grows incredibly fast. The older I get the faster and thicker it grows. It requires constant maintenance. It is a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge. I hadn't been to my hairdresser for a couple of months, and I had a renegade clump of hair which was beginning to offend me. Rather than make an appointment and wait for her to rectify the situation, I thought that I’d just take matters into my own hands, and lop off the bit in question. So that is what I did. It didn’t look too bad, so I lopped off a bit more. That didn’t seem to affect me too much, either, so I pressed on.

Before I knew it I was standing in front of the mirror with the worst kind of mullet imaginable asking myself how it had happened.

There was nothing for it but to get out the clippers and try to rectify the damage. As it turns out, that’s a bit like doing some more digging to rectify a hole.

So today I am completely bald, but it won’t last for long. No, my hair is a weed that will grow through concrete. It is tenacious and persistent, and it wants to possess me and take over the world. Tomorrow I may find myself bearded in the manner of Charles Manson, or worse, eaten by my own sideburns. If you are bald, and you awaken tomorrow to find that your hair has miraculously grown back, don’t be too quick to celebrate. It is not your hair. It is my hair. It has possessed you like it has possessed so many others, and there is nothing left for you but to do its bidding.

You, like me, are its helpless minion.                                            


  1. Cheers Piers, cheered me right up. Poor Barbers, some of them do actually try, which makes their attempts all the more dismal. I'm lucky with my man & rightfully grateful that he snips all the right place at exactly the right length.

  2. Hi - love this post, made me laugh out loud (look out that... spelled out in proper words, cos it was proper laughter!).

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your posts.