The barbers shop in
our village has remained unchanged for decades.
Thirty years ago, George took over the business
from his father, and he has maintained
traditional barber shop practices to this day.
I and other men from the
village have made our fortnightly pilgrimage to
this establishment since boyhood. Barber shop
rituals are thus our second nature:
One enters the small, one
roomed shop and bids hello to George. Leather-upholstered,
brown benches run the length of two walls, and
one finds an unoccupied gap in which to sit. When
seated, one makes a mental note of the others
already waiting, such that one can occupy
ones place in the Chair in correct
chronological sequence. After that, one might
choose to watch the small, almost silent, wall
mounted, television, or one might browse one of
tabloid newspapers provided. Sometimes a
broadsheet might have been left by a visitor not
fully versed in correct custom and practice. This
is always discretely removed.
All conversations are
instigated by George. He begins by addressing the
person in the Chair, known as the
Hair. George asks the Hair a question
based on a local or national news event. I
usually take the precaution of reading a national
and a local newspaper on the morning prior to
visiting George, so I am not caught out by any
particularly obscure opening gambit. This
question is the prompt for the Hair to make a
short and, if possible, mildly amusing reply. At
this point, George might respond in one of two
ways. He may reply to the Hair with a comment or
another question, or he may glance at the others
there assembled, termed the Waiting.
If the latter, this is a signal that one, but
only one, of the Waiting may briefly comment.
Should any utterance be mildly amusing, then it
is permissible for the Hair or the Waiting to
vocalise subdued laughter. However, neither the
Hair nor the Waiting must ever ask a question.
The process is then
repeated as George poses additional questions to
the Hair during the four minutes and twenty-four
second duration of the Cut.
Thereafter, the Hair gives
George five pounds with a fifty pence tip, and
each bids the other goodbye. The Hair then
quickly and quietly exits the premises, leaving
the next of the Waiting to assume the office of
There are, of course,
occasions when neophytes come in search of a Cut.
I remember the day Sanjit first joined us. Having
just arrived from India, he had no experience of
British barber shop traditions. On sitting down,
he immediately attempted to engage the Waiting in
conversation. We were naturally compelled, rather
self consciously, to ignore him. He clearly
interpreted this as extreme discourtesy, and thus
rose and left.
George beckoned for me to
pursue Sanjit and bring him back. I caught up
with him in the High Street where I explained the
nature of his transgression, together with a
brief resume of correct barber shop etiquette.
When we returned, George
turned to the Waiting and requested that Sanjit
be the next Hair. All nodded in agreement,
knowing this would allow us to support Sanjit
during his inaugural Cut. The tension in the room
was palpable as we all silently encouraged him.
Fortunately, India was currently playing England
in a test match at Edgbaston, and George
generously selected an opening question on this
subject. Sanjit responded as if he had been
visiting the shop all his life.
As he rose from the Chair,
Sanjit anxiously glanced at me and the other
Waiting as if seeking a review of his performance.
Our smiles and subtle nods confirmed that he had
fared magnificently. Indeed, those present might
have given him a standing ovation had that not
been strictly contrary to barber shop etiquette.
In that moment we knew that he was to be one of
Sanjit is a devout Hindu,
and it is often the case that those with strong
religious convictions adapt most readily to
barber shop practices, understanding, as they do,
the significance of ritual from observance of
their own faiths.
Such was not the case with
Eric had been coming to
George for ten years. Unknown to any of us, his
wife had developed an increasing dislike of
Erics Cut and kept nagging him to ask
George for a different style. Erics
protests that George only did one style had gone
unheeded until, one morning, Enid arrived at the
Even George was taken aback
by her entrance. Women were not specifically
banned from the shop, but none had entered it
since 1972. On that occasion, the young
ladys car had broken down and barber shop
procedures had been temporarily suspended as all
had joined in pushing the vehicle to the nearby
Things were very different
as Enid waved a photograph of Daniel Craig in
front of George. Why cant Eric have a
haircut like that? she demanded.
All were stunned. It was as
if Richard Dawkins had turned up for Mass and
disputed transubstantiation with the priest.
Thats not a
type of cut done here, responded George,
What types of cut are
done here? she countered, sensing her
This one, he
stammered, pointing to the Hair in the Chair.
Its the same as those
gestured falteringly towards the Waiting,
We all pointed to our heads
by way of further clarification.
doesnt have a haircut like that,
Enid emphasised with uncomprehending annoyance.
He would if he came
here, chorused everyone else in unison.
Enid never returned, and,
sadly, neither did Eric, although, in the
following months, there were reported sightings
in one or other unisex salon a tragic loss
to an institution which still forms a central
pillar of the heritage of Great Britain.
Long may George and the
traditional British barber shop continue!