Of eyebrows and ear-hair: Tales from the barbershop

From as soon as I was old enough to get a proper haircut, the barbershop has always been a refuge. A quiet sanctuary against the passing of time in the world outside. Wherever you were, and whichever barber you went to, it offered a predictable set of rituals, burnished into an institution through repetition. And whilst hairstyles might change, the barbershop is one of the few places that technology hasn’t invaded. Scissors are scissors, a comb is a comb, and there isn’t much call for a Bluetooth enabled set of clippers. Time seems to stand still.

And there we have it. It’s not just a haircut you go for. The quiet, defined sounds of barbers going about their work and the familiar scents of barbicide and talc, which have remained unchanged in my memory for the best part of three decades, help us to forget the fact that life is rocketing past at a rate of knots for at least a short while.So when I strolled into Wellfield Barbers this afternoon, little did I know what was in store for me.

It is, in every respect, a great little barbershop. Pleasant staff, layout meeting expectation, complete with cheap radio pumping out 80s hits. “What can I do for you sir?” Even the old-retainer question itself was bang on note, as though I had yanked the bell pull and Mr Carson had appeared at my elbow. Fantastic.

So I happily settled down for my trim as the barber got to work. A few quiet questions about the recent Christmas break, the nostalgic sensation of the water vaporiser freshening the atmosphere and the sound of clippers busy around my head, with the occasional waspish ‘bzzt!’ as the barber strayed too close to an ear melted quietly into the overall barbershop murmur.

Now about this ‘bzzt!’ 

Men, once they hit a certain age, are aware that hairs start to sprout in the ear region. Rather than resign ourselves to looking like Mr Twit out of a Roald Dahl creation, and keen to hold back the passage of time, we seek out the barbershop, where we studiously avoid mentioning such things when the Carson question is uttered. No one talks about it, we are content with hearing the ‘bzzt!’ as the barber neatly trims the offending hairs off. We tell ourselves that the clipper just brushed an ear whilst on the way to shaping a sideburn, not that monstrous ear privet hedges were being pruned away. No. It’s just an Unspoken Agreement to help defy the passing of years in men’s lives.

And so it was that I was jerked from my reverie by a direct question, mid-cut, which left me panicking.

“Do you want me to do your eyebrows?”

Good heavens, what was happening? Startled, I glanced around, peering out for some sort of hot wax torture implement, or a dreaded threading device, and wondered if I’d accidentally strolled into a salon. The barber waited patiently, clippers and comb in hand.

“Err… what?”

The same question was repeated. And then the realisation slowly dawned that the barber, in a direct violation of The Unspoken Agreement, was asking about the few stray Dumbledore-esque hairs which were leaping wildly from my brow.

That’s it, you old man. Yes, you. You’ve got a dusting of grey, hairs in your ears and now you need to get those eyebrows seen to as well. Could I claim it was just my fringe being neatened? No such luck, my hair was way too short, and the comb came out too.

Well, that was my afternoon well and truly stuffed. Shame-faced, I submitted to the barber’s ministrations and hastily slunk off. The pact had been broken. Time, it seems, catches up with us all in the end.

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