Going like the clippers

There was always a very sharp pair of scissors in the house, thin-bladed and a dull metallic colour, they were easily distinguished from the sort of scissors children might use for cutting paper, cardboard and miscellaneous other items. Sometimes, there was the temptation to use the sharp scissors, but with that omniscience that seems to come with being a mother, my mother seemed always to know if her scissors had been used.

A hairdresser by profession, the scissors were those she used for cutting hair and even a child could understand that hair could not be cut well if the blades had been blunted by their use in the latest attempt at making models of fortresses.

The blades moved at a rapid speed when she was cutting hair, there was a swift, business-like approach. “Please tip your head forward,” needed to be constantly repeated as there were many things to distract a boy from getting a haircut.

During teenage years spent at school on Dartmoor, dealing with my asthma, my mother would always cut my hair before the beginning of term. This was never sufficient to satisfy the housemaster who would insist that I had it cut again by the school barber.

The school barber would arrive at nine o’clock in the morning, and work through the day, chiefly focused on the music playing on his transistor radio. He would complete sixty haircuts in a day. One style fits all seemed to be his philosophy as we emerged with the uniform pudding bowl haircuts. (Years later, a past pupil said that the man wasn’t a qualified barber at all, which perhaps explained how he could spend whole days away from his shop).

Eighty-three next week, my mother would still give me a haircut if asked, but the lockdown has meant I cannot call (and if there were not a lockdown, I could go to the barber).

Not having had a haircut for eight weeks, the lockdown beginning just as I would normally have gone for the monthly “Number Three on the back and sides, short on top,” there was only one alternative to the irritating untidiness – a pair of clippers.

At £17.99 in Boot’s, they were only £6 more than a haircut, but the result makes it clear why barbers remain in business. The hair is a uniform length, better than the school barber, but not carefully layered and certainly not styled. What it needs is an expert with a sharp pair of scissors.

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