Notes From a Fragile Island…26

January 8 1999

Walcott Street.

The morning rain is heavy. A and I struggle our amps and guitars up Walcott Street toward the Hat & Feather where we have hired the back room to teach his brother, G, our short, Shit-Pop set for the Moles gig. When we get to the top of Walcott Street, G is already sat at the bar, nursing a cider, a guitar-shaped bin bag and a huge amp on the floor beside him. He has constructed a number of ashtray smokes and he generously offers them up, the ashtray like a platter. The pub appears otherwise empty but, as I go in search of the barman to get the keys to the back room, I pass two smart types hidden away in a snug by the Ladies. They are, surprisingly, Roland Whatnot and ‘the other one’ from Tears For Fears. They are drinking tea and reading the Bath Chronicle. ‘The other one’ looks up as I pass and says, “Could we get another pot of tea, man.” I nod the bar. “Help yourselves.”

We play our songs to G; A calling the chords as we play. “E – F Sharp – G Sharp – A…” he shouts into his brother’s face. But G overplays it and A has to keep stopping the songs to reprimand his sibling. “Just play it simple. Stop trying to impress them tea drinking fuckers out there!” The drum machine rumbles on and they begin to bicker. I venture to the bar. Tears For Fears have left the building and I can’t find the barman.

January 8 2010

Selsdon Rd.

PS insists the tree and the cards and the decorations remain in situ for one month after Xmas. She always receives so many cards and they are strung from many wires stretched between drawing pins in the living room walls, balanced on every surface, slotted in the frame of the mirror, blu-tacked to the kitchen door – it’s a sign of her generosity to her friends and, of course, her popularity. She has a mind for dates, for anniversaries, and makes a point of sending birthday cards and Christmas cards and Get Well cards through the post.

The tree this year is monstrous and dominates half the room. The galaxy of fairy lights encircling it pulse red and white and blue and yellow and we have to wear shades to watch TV. Tinsel strands are discovered in the strangest places all around the two-up, two-down all year round. But none stranger than this piece protruding inelegantly from Dilly’s bottom as she sits in the afternoon winter sun on the backyard wall licking her paws and washing her face…

January 8 2022

Palmersville.

I like to try out other barbershops sometimes. Outside Palmersville Metro there is one called Klippa Kutz. I decide to get a clipper cut. It is a small box-room affair next door to a sub-post office; rather like a garage refit; a one-man job. The barber introduces himself as Z. “Is that the z at the end of the shop name?” But this gets us off to a bad start and he looks at me and then at the shop window, trips over his face says, “Huh?”

Z is a thin, coriander-coloured man, perhaps in his fifties with wispy, black hair that once may have been considered his crowning glory, but is now quite sad looking with ten-pence sized bald spots in several places (above left ear, above nape, just into the hairline over right eye). His eyes are pennies dipped in battery hen yolk.

The barber oils the clipper plates liberally and, clamping me in his palm, tells me about his brain tumour as he drives the clippers around my head like a kid might a toy car. And as he chats I wonder if the number 3 guard is going to fall off. He plays back and forth like this for some minutes, becoming quite rough as he wonders aloud at the future of his business, his hair, his loss and himself… and, after a while the number 3 guard slips from the clipper plate to the floor.

A brief heat fills the space between us and I know that, should I look up, I would find myself with a clipper mark just above my right ear. So, playing with my (surprisingly grey) hair in my lap and to save any further awkwardness, I say, “Actually, would you mind taking it down to a number 2…”

“Two,” he says. “Aye.”

He picks up the number 3 guard as if it were normally found on the floor, throws it in the basin and searches for the number 2 guard among a small collection of guards on the work top. But he picks up a number 1 guard, saying, “I was going to suggest you go shorter.” Some people have no shame.

“Uh-huh. But that’s a number 1 guard…”

If a barber seems nervous I am in the habit of telling them, when they inevitably ask – “Are you working today?” – that I’m a baker. I don’t know why a baker; I baked a Lemon Drizzle once or twice; I’ve taken a Pear Gateau from a freezer, but that’s not real baking, it’s more reanimation – which is cool – but the two words – baker and barber are phonetically related. But, if a barber seems overly confident or generally irritating, I tell them I’m a barber – I would recommend trying this yourself next time you go for a cut – it generally cuts all nonsense dead and the game is raised several notches. Z falls into the latter…

A breeze of embarrassed heat passes from him (but not nearly enough) and he says suddenly, realising that the jig is up, “I could just give you the keys to the shop.” But I don’t want them and in the end, he says, “Well, we’re in the same business, so I won’t charge you.” But I know the truth is more sheathed in the fact that we both now wear coin shapes in our hair. As I put my coat back on I pick up the broom that stands in the corner by the bin and begin to sweep my hair from the floor. This seems hugely significant to me – but maybe I’m just sweeping a floor. Anyway, it confuses the heck out of Z and this makes me a little happier. “Let me give you a haircut”, I say. “That would be great,” Z says. So the barber sits down in the chair and I begin to shave off the remnants of his sad hair, detailing my morning out at St. Mary’s for something to say. His hair feels crispy and burnt and collects in his lap. The heat rising from beneath his scalp is palpable.

I once cut a man’s hair as he lay like a playing card King in his hospice bed. His eyes shone like diamonds and his breath smelt of spades.

‘Surfing With The Pygmies’ from Make Yourself At Home. Fraudster 250/ 1998

9 thoughts on “Notes From a Fragile Island…26

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