The Ploy. A few years ago we moved house, hence we moved service providers and I found a new barber. If you mention his premises to those spending anything from fifteen quid to a ton, just for a haircut, they’ll double up laughing – that is the risk you take and I took it. My next door neighbour, a customer with perfect styling, warned me, but said nothing about the ‘Ploy’. For eighteen months I was a happy chappie, it was cheap, quick and looked OK to me, then I came across Sweeny Todd, who had the chair near the door. The back of my head has an overhang of skull, rather like those on mountains you see rock climbers negotiating on TV. Sweeny didn’t probe, he got out the oscillating mower and proceeded from somewhere near the spine to shear a straight furrow which I assume was intended to end just above the nose, but he hit the bone – there it all came to a stop and naked skin was revealed – not to me, I was dreaming. I really didn’t discover the damage until Soph became apoplectic. There was no way I was going back, and only then did I discover the ‘Ploy’. Entering the barber’s, my neighbour picks up anything to read. If Sweeny says ‘Next!’, my mate turns to the next man in the queue and says, ‘You go ahead, I want to finish this article.’
It’s fair to say that Soph and I are conventional where it comes to the tonsorial arts. We think we have seen everything from the puce Mohican to the total all-off. Of course I too have been as guilty as anyone of disobeying parental strictures and of presenting an abstruse fashion to my betters. The thought was reawakened when Soph criticised one of the grandsons by telling him he should keep his hat on in the house as what he had had done to himself horrified her. In truth, of course, she was wrong on all counts. Firstly he had not done it to himself, he had told his fashionable lady hairdresser to give him the most up to date haircut she could as he would be performing on stage next day. So it was a professional production, in the modern style of high quality, and, we heard later that it was greatly admired by his contemporaries.
In the 30’s, I would be taken to Posnickers, a ‘high class’ ladies hairdressing emporium where boys were attended to as a ‘perk’ with all the pomp of paper then cotton wool in the neck before a scented smock was draped. There was a great show of fresh air snipping of the scissors before a carefully measured cut could be achieved, and so on. My Grandmother called many of my friends ‘Gutter-snipes’, make of that what you will, but then she also called the shop Potlickers. The friends went to a small shop where the proprietor seemed to own nothing more technical than an electric clipper and a comb, and a bit of toilet paper was all that restrained the detritus from annoying the spine for the rest of the day. He too used the clippers like a lawn mower, starting at the nape of the neck and travelling up and over until stopping just short of the very front, so that when all was done, in the matter of about a minute, the head was nearly bald except for a small tuft front and centre which was intended to peek out from under the school cap. I think the practice had come down the years from the First World War trenches, where the men cut each other’s hair and lice was the real problem.
One morning, I was now old enough to go on my own so she gave me the money and let me loose. Coincidentally the ‘Gutter Snipes’ were gathering to make a concerted assault on their shop . I joined with relief, now I would conform, be like the rest, another tuffty – which I duly became. I took my cap off at every shop window to admire the result and I stayed out rather than going to face the music which would be forte, forzando, sostenuto, loud, strongly accented and sustained – which it indeed was. Once again I was grabbed, hurried to Potlickers. Mr ‘P’, looked with horror, shrugged, and that was that I conformed for nearly a month.
Today I find it strange that a large proportion of the male population has opted for, the almost all-off haircut. Is it because we religiously follow the mores of Harlam,? where the all-off is almost indistinguishable from the all-on? Is it because the number of competent hairdressers has diminished so that people no longer can afford to pay them and take the cheap way out? Or perhaps there is now a propensity of bald men who have set the fashion so that no one knows they are different and are making everyone else conform to their fashion? One thing is certain, everyone seems to have forgotten that an all-off is a sign that an infestation has invaded the neighbourhood.