Do you remember the first haircut you got by yourself? I do, believe me. For years I’d go to Sheryl. Sheryl was, for want of a better word, the family hairdresser, who in an annex behind her house had two green leather chairs in front of two fairly rusted sinks, a couple of those gigantic hair-curler hats that look like you’re about to have an MRI, and a green chaise-longue piled high with old copies of Good Housekeeping and Country Life. Both me and my siblings were first shorn by her – to this day the sight of long, fake, red fingernails puts me back in that chair, the smell of hair on the wood-that’s-not-really-wood floor and Sheryl’s fairly ample breast pushing against my neck, me freaking the fuck out.
Once you get to a certain age you want to assert your independence, and an easy way to do that was to go kick Sheryl to the kerb and go to the hairdressing “salon” in town, aptly named Headcases – they had, like, volumising cream and stuff and apparently put gel in your hair, and all the rugby lads went there, so hey, it seemed right. Long story short, I came out of Headcases with literally no hair on my head. I’d said the wrong number, or something, and anyway I looked like Thomas Turgoose in This Is England minus the fetching National Front garb. Cue many, many years of being genuinely terrified of getting my hair cut which led to me growing my hair to a length which, with the beauty of hindsight and tagged Facebook pictures from freshers week, can be accurately described as nightmarish.
I needed to break the cycle. I needed to get this monkey off my back. I was spending most of my commutes looking at other men’s hair, quietly coveting that which I didn’t have. I’d tried the trainee salons, the five-quid jobs, but 3 hours looking at your head looking slowly worse was an experience I wouldn’t recommend. For a time I found a Sheryl equivalent in New Cross, a local hairdresser who was nice to chat to, fairly cheap, and more importantly was a 2 minute walk from my house. But still, the whole experience felt like a chore. That was when I decided to make a change. That was when I discovered Barry the Barber.
Recommended by fellow Saboteur and lovely bloke Dale Shaw, I made my appointment, rocking up one afternoon in a small, one-seated, wooden floored room next to a junk shop in Shoreditch – I say junk shop, nothing in there was junk, in fact there was a taxidermied fox that I quite want to get my hands on. Anyway, I digress. What really put me at ease was the reversal of roles when I sat in the chair. Previously haircuts would go as such:
Hairdresser: “So, what can we do for you today?”
Me: “Err, umm, well, it’s just kinda...kinda a mess, like, on my head? So..yeah, if you could, like, cut it a bit and...yeah I wear my fringe to this...yeah...just...”
Not so with Barry. He knew best, seeing my hair for the unkempt shambles that it was, taking to it with shears and wild abandon, combining it with affable Geordie chat and comments on passersby and other customers. The nervous twitches I’d get before were all but gone, and by the end of it, after I’d had bay rum in my hair and aftershave milk on my beard (aftershave milk man, totally a thing), I felt like I’d just been paid.
Sometimes the anonymity of city life can grind you down. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to walk down a street in London and not recognise any faces, and not be recognised, it’s a wonderful feeling completely at odds with the whispers and squinting-windows of small town life, but occasionally it’s nice to be pampered, to feel looked after. Whether it’s a barman knowing your drink before you get your wallet out, a barista getting your name right on your cup, or your barber becoming therapist for half an hour, whilst making you look and smell your best, those little pick-me-ups are like picking up extra-lives in a video game – security, even if just for a moment.