It’s time for me to get a haircut. I really can’t put it off any longer. I don’t know how long it’s been since my last one, but in that time I’ve gone from having a neat, tidy style to letting it grow out a bit to trimming it myself with blunt scissors to getting my wife to have a go to now looking something like the scruffy 21-year-old I was a decade ago.
The problem I have is that I need to go to a new hairdresser. It’s a walk into the unknown. When I lived in Thailand, I used to go to this salon in a mall. It was familiar and straightforward, despite the weirdness that comes with getting a trim in Thailand, like multiple rinses, head massages and confusing conversations.
The comfort I took from going to that salon made the anxiety of getting a new haircut bearable. I didn’t need to worry about any of the points of contention that appear in front of me now. It’s not like I can ask my wife to come with me for moral support. Because that’s insane. Nobody needs their hand held while they get their hair cut.
Sussing out the place
I’ve seen a few barbers on my street. For the last few days I’ve been making mental notes of the setups of each one as I walk past to help me come to a decision about which to pick. The one closest to my place is always full of young lads getting their lad haircuts. It seems more like a social club than a hairdresser’s. That one’s off the list.
There’s another that has a huskie in it and a similar ensemble of lads, albeit a little older than the first place. It’s too busy inside. Plus my dog has a thing about trying to fight huskies every time he sees one. So that’s off the list, too.
A third hairdresser’s, a “barber shop”, as I should call it, looks relatively welcoming compared to the others. There’s hardly anybody ever in there, but the people I’ve seen having their Barnets cut come out of the shop looking like they mean business. The barber himself, a young British Asian chap, appears to what he’s doing and he has all the equipment and stuff that he might need. This, this will be my barber.
The day arrives
I’m not going to call – I don’t phone anyone other than my wife and mum. I’ll just walk in and see if he can either cut my hair there and then, or else make an appointment for later. But I have to do this after it’s had time to sink in and I can really build myself up to it. I’ll also need to chat about my plans with my wife to get some reassurance that this is actually a good idea.
I’ll go in on Friday afternoon, I tell her. It’s the end of the week and near the end of the day, so it’s something I can work towards. I have a photo I took after my last haircut so I can show him that picture without having to really explain myself.
I head out to the street and walk up the road towards the barber. I wonder if the people I pass notice that I’m in need of a haircut. The closer I get to the shop, the more my mind races and I become increasingly aware of everyone on the street. They all have tidy hair.
Through the door
I’m at the door now. It’s a big moment as I turn the handle and walk in. The barber will clearly be able to see that I’ve left it so long to get this done.
He’s already cutting someone else’s hair, a chap maybe 20 years older than me who actually doesn’t have much on top to start with, but what he does have looks all right in an ashy kind of way. I take a seat and the barber says he can do me next.
As I’m sat on the large, black, leather couch, I want to see the barber perform. I think he looks professional. I reckon I can trust this man to give me something that won’t necessitate two weeks of wearing a hat.
I have some time to myself to think now. Why do I hate getting my hair cut? What is it about the experience that feels to me like nails screeching down a chalkboard? It’s the feeling of being at the centre of attention in a situation in which I’m somehow vulnerable. It’s the process of being in a spotlight and unable to escape.
I have to bring my trail of thought to an end because it’s my turn to don the weird backwards cape and sit in the hotseat. The barber politely asks me what I want. I mumble something about desiring it to look how it does now, only shorter. This sounds too vague. I need to get my phone out and show him the photo. The pic wasn’t really taken at the optimal angle so it’s about as much use as my description. He says he thinks he knows what I mean, so I will have to trust him.
And so it begins
I sometimes imagine that I’m getting my hair done and halfway through I realize it’s a disaster so I run out of the shop with half a haircut and try to get away. I won’t be doing that here. Whatever happens, I’ll figure things through.
The cut begins. He doesn’t wash it or anything, but just sprays some water on. I washed my hair this morning but I wonder if it's unusually greasy or if I have bits of toast in it. Do the backs of my ears look dirty? I didn’t shave. Maybe I should have shaved for this.
We’re keeping conversation to a minimum. I’ve told him I live just up the road and that’s about as far as we’ve got. I’m content to just sit here in silence, but I have to find ways to make my face look like I’m happy with the job he is doing.
I can imagine nothing worse than cutting someone’s hair and knowing by their facial expression that they are unhappy with how everything is going. How do I look content without appearing unusually happy?
I decide to occasionally do that weird half smile people do when they fold their lips in on each other and push them tightly together. I’m trying not to frown as I do it. Every now and then I give an approving nod. He seems OK with this.
I think I like where this is going. My hair is starting to look how I imagined it would in my head. This is an enormous relief. We’re almost done. Do I want some wax in my hair? No, no, don’t worry about that. I’ll do it when I get home and can properly assess the situation. I think I like it, but I don’t want to stare at myself in the mirror for too long here.
He shows me what the back of my heads looks like with one of those small round mirrors. Yep, yep, that’s the back of my head. That’s exactly how it looks. Great, thank you. The backward cape is removed and he brushes some stray hairs from my shoulders. I have to pay now. It’s £9 but I should give him a tenner because he seems like a nice chap. Maybe I should tip more. I don’t know. But before I can figure out this latest conundrum I’m out of the shop and walking back home.
Anyone who sees me now will know that I have just minutes ago had a haircut. What do they think of it? I walk a little faster, catching my reflection in shop windows as I go. I think I look all right. I’ll need to take a picture, though, and send it to my wife, and also take some better shots for next time I get a cut so I can have this replicated.
Back home now and I spend some time in front of the mirror. This has all been worth it. It’s over now. I don’t need to go through this for at least another three months. I could possibly stretch it even longer if I get into one of my long-hair moods.
For now, all is well in the world.