Saturday, August 05, 2006

Swing your razor wide! Sweeney, hold it to the skies

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, not much chance of him getting on in New Zealand, far too much of a craftsman he was. In the Land of the Long White Cloud anyone can be anything they want to be over here and qualifications seem to have little to do with it. Take barbers for instance. Six months and I haven't once had a decent haircut. In fact, I'm pretty convinced that the qualifications for becoming a New Zealand barber are simply the ability to daub red white and blue stripes somewhere on the outside of a shop. They certainly don't seem to relate to being able to cut hair, that's for sure!

Now at this point, some of you are probably assuming I'm one of those sartorially elegant chaps who sports the kind of trendy haircut that makes you look like you've just jumped out of bed and dived backwards through a hedge? Well not me! Admittedly, I do like the back shaved up and a quick razor scrape to rid me of the bum fluff on the neck but I've never considered myself trendily tonsured - I'm quite happy with the regulation short back and sides with a good short trim on the roof. Back in England a quick trip to "Mad Jack's" and you'd spend more time waiting than you did in the chair - a good old fashioned barber who'd whizz round with the clippers, have the cut-throat up and down your neck and offer you "something for the weekend sir?" before you'd even had chance to comment on the weather. (By the way, why is it, whenever I hear the oft parodied phrase "Something for the weekend sir?" I immediately think of a hot black pudding and a free ticket to watch the mighty Shakers get trounced by some second-rate pub team from the wilds of Yorkshire.)

Anyway, my mind wanders, as it often does, but, to get back to the point, you wouldn't think it would be too hard to get a decent, sharp haircut of the old fashioned variety, now would you?

Well how wrong could you be?

The first mistake I made was going to a female barber. Now call me old fashioned, but women are hairdressers and blokes are barbers. Women just simply don't have the aggression needed to wield hair clippers with the required amount of venom to shave with military precision. So I spent 30 minutes (20 minutes longer than I would usually) sat in the chair, listening to inane twittering about the weather, TV and the price of shopping, whilst this lovely lady faffed and fussed around the back of my head. Granted, she did do the thing with the mirror to show me the back of my head when she'd finished. But that immediately raised my suspicions - no self respecting barber shows you the back. He leaves that surprise for when you get home! And true enough, there it was....a beautifully clipped neckline with not a trace of blood or tissue paper anywhere. And even worse, no evidence of contact with clippers whatsoever....which left me wondering just what the hell that buzzing noise had been at the back of my head for the last 20 minutes!! (Surely not!)

Now everyone knows that the standard issue short back and sides lasts you at least a month but after a week I was beginning to look like Jason Eaton!

So, with the bit between my teeth and my unwanted ponytail wafting gaily in the breeze, I set out again to find a real barber. Spotting a dingy place lurking menacingly next to a disused cafe, I thought I'd struck lucky. Surely no-one but an old fashioned barber would have Old Holborn and Park Drive tins in the window?. So in I dived and to my delight not only did I find there were only two people before me, but there was a table full of 10 year old copies of "Top Gear" magazine and "New Zealand Fisherman & Hunter". Now I really was in luck!

So, I quickly grabbed an interesting magazine and began to read the review of the "hot new 2.8l Ford Capri", knowing I would only have the briefest of moments to savour the vinyl interior as modelled by Lewis Collins, before my turn would come, I read hungrily......and after nearly an hour, it dawned on me that, not only was I no nearer getting my haircut but there was actually STILL no-one in the chair and the same two blokes were waiting before me....looking, on closer inspection, as if they'd been there for years. This guy had stropped his razor, cleaned his clippers, rolled a couple of fags (for the non-Brits out there, rolling a fag is the art of crafting a hand-made cigarette, not a George Michael courtship technique!), and sipped a couple of cups of coffee. It suddenly became very clear to me that this fella was cacking himself and doing everything possible to avoid cutting anyone's hair, presumably lest he should be found out to be a plumber or a plasterer down on his luck, and not really a barber at all !!

It was at that point, I noticed his prosthetic ear (I kid you not!!)....and I began to wonder. Maybe he wasn't a barber at all. Maybe he'd been cruelly mutilated by another amateur New Zealand barber and was now hell-bent on some mission of misplaced vengeance!

Bugger that, time for a sharp exit.....before I end up with a sharp exit!!

So I legged it....and only stopped running when I spotted "Bert's Barbers" (name changed to protect the under-qualified!) tucked away down another alleyway. Undeterred, and becoming somewhat stubborn by this point, I thought I'd give it a go, if only to save money on Alberta Balsam conditioner for long and fly-away hair.

Once again, stepping into the breach, I found myself in an empty shop, bedecked with faded Manchester United memorabilia. The chap seemed cheerful enough, as he greeted me in that cheeky cockney accent favoured by most traditional Man Utd fans. "What'll it be sir?". Now, my hopes soared at this display of traditional Uriah Heep-like ingratiating humility that can surely only truly be learned at a good barbering school. However, not being prepared to take any more chances, I opted for "a number 3 all over", on the basis of a good nagging from Mrs C for having "a bloody crew cut" was better than being mistaken for a slightly dishevelled Liza Minnelli from behind.

It was only when I got home I realised I'd had "a number 3 all over" except for various long tufts at the back!! It was at that point, completely defeated, and after a bout of expletives, I opted for the unthinkable......."Mrs C, do me a favour, get the scissors and trim some of these long bits off."

Snip, snip, snip......"Oh, oh, sorry, I think I've gone a bit close there....."

"Jesus, what have you done? Give me that mirror?"

Now I ask you, which is worse, long tufts of hair here and there or the random placing of bald patches, making me look like a feral dog with the mange??

You know I used to worry a little about going bald but I'm sure Yul Brynner never had the problems I seem to have!