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Further Writing by Swan Morrison

Luigi's "Usual"

A year or so ago, the ladies’ hairstylist in my village began to advertise haircuts for men, so I gave it a try.

The results seemed fine to me. I’ve never been that discerning about haircuts, and, in any case, I tend to see my own on just a couple of occasions each day when I glance in the bathroom mirror.

After my visits to the local salon, however, my wife began to comment on her dislike of the manner in which Janet, our village “hair designer” (as she was described on her sign), had cut my hair.

I never understood the stylistic subtleties to which she was referring and so had no way of describing them to Janet.

‘Come with me when I next have a haircut,’ I suggested. ‘Janet tells me that she’s been styling hair for twenty-five years. I’m sure she’d appreciate some innovative new suggestions for improving her technique.’

Sadly, my wife declined to offer her expertise.

Photographs would have been another way to convey the coiffuristic nuances that my wife had in mind, and for a while I took to pointing to celebrities on the television for inspiration. ‘Should I look more like Brad Pitt,’ I questioned, ‘or David Beckham or Leonardo DiCaprio?’

Personally, I was not too keen on any such option – being regularly stopped in the High Street to sign autographs might have become rather tedious. My wife felt that the risks were probably small although she never identified a suitable celebrity photograph.

Two factors then led to a radical change in approach to the design of my hair.

The first followed from the nature of the conversations in which Janet attempted to engage me while sculpting her next cephalic creation:

Women hairstylists have never really got the hang of proper barbershop dialogue. Not once, for example, did Janet ever mention football or horseracing. I have little interest in either of those topics, but tradition is tradition and not to have them broached while sitting in a barber’s chair feels to someone of my generation like omitting Land of Hope and Glory from the last night of the Proms.

This is not to say that no aspects of barbershop dialogue have evolved over the years. One is no longer offered “something for the weekend”, for example – which excludes the possibility of requesting a copy of the Radio Times or some nice bedding plants to brighten up the herbaceous border.

In contrast to time-honoured barbershop banter, Janet’s lines of discourse frequently covered holidays, local events and family celebrations. It was all rather girly to the point that I feared she might one day try to talk about feelings.

The second factor that changed my coiffuristic direction in life emerged at just the time when my hair had once again begun to obscure my vision.

I was pondering the problem of its forthcoming creative experience as I walked through the shopping mall in my local town. A space in the middle of one large thoroughfare had been separated-off by low barriers. In that space was a barber.

“Haircuts 6” announced a sign at the entrance. That was half the price charged by Janet.

A man sat in the barber’s chair, and just one other was waiting. It seemed like a perfect opportunity.

I sat down in the waiting area as the man in the barber’s chair stood up to pay for his cut. The next customer rose, walked to the chair and sat down.

‘Howa ya doina, Boss?’ said the barber as he came up behind the new arrival. ‘You wanna the usual?’

He seems to know his customers, I thought.

Judging from the barber's accent, he was clearly Italian, and so, utilising my in-depth knowledge of foreigners, I assumed him to be called Luigi. I think it is true to say that most Italians are called Luigi – except for the women, of course, who are mostly called Maria.

In what seemed like an instant, the haircut was complete and Luigi was beckoning for me to join him.

I walked to the chair and sat down.

‘Howa ya doina, Boss?’ he said. ‘You wanna the usual?’

I reflected on the facts that he and I had never met, he had used the same introduction with the previous person and that his last two customers had left with identical haircuts.

He could have mistaken me for one of his regulars, I speculated to myself, but I doubt whether Brad Pitt, David Beckham or Leonardo DiCaprio ever come here.

‘I’ll have the usual, Luigi,’ I replied, entering into the spirit of the occasion and taking a chance on his name.

He did not seem to object to being called Luigi, and so I never confirmed that it was correct – blokes don’t like to get too familiar.

Luigi started to remove my hair with an electric clipper. ‘Southampton, they are nota doina so well in the Premiership,’ he said.

Had I realised that I was going to have my hair cut by a traditional barber, I might have glanced at the sports pages and been prepared for such a question. ‘They haven’t settled down since the start of the season,’ I guessed, hoping I could get away with it – after all, if he was of the old school, he would never listen to a customer's reply before moving to the next topic.

‘You gotta any tipsa for the races?’ he continued in the time-honoured tradition.

‘My best tip is don’t bet, my friend.’ I responded. ‘The bookies always win.’

‘Ha ha. Familya wella?’ he rapidly progressed.

‘Can’t complain,’ I answered, slipping into barbershop banter of a type I had not experienced for a very long time. ‘How’s Maria?’ I added before I realised what I was saying.

‘Whicha Maria?’ Luigi responded with a hushed tone of caution in his voice.

‘You wife, Maria,’ I guessed in the hope I could extricate myself from the hole that I had just inadvertently begun to dig.

‘Oh, I thought you might mean Maria Maria,’ Luigi continued. ‘We keepa that between us, yes? If Maria ever founda out about Maria then Maria woulda killa me.’

I was awaiting our next exchange when Luigi picked up a mirror to allow me to see the back of my lead. The haircut was over in less than four minutes.

‘No one willa recognisea you,’ he said.

‘I’ll be able to go back into all the pubs I’ve been banned from,’ I replied, reflecting that this response, together with my earlier quip about racing tips, had not seen the light of day for many years.

‘Youa needa to come herea sooner ina the future,’ advised Luigi as I was paying him. ‘You hada too mucha hair.’

‘Ah, but you can finish stuffing that mattress now,’ I replied with another line that had lain dormant for longer than I could remember.

Luigi’s “usual” haircut was a bit severe, but it would soon grow again.

Critically, however, Luigi’s “usual” turned out to be the elusive style sought by my wife.

Since that day I have always had my hair cut by Luigi. He always repeats his “usual” style and we engage in much the same banter – although I tactfully avoid asking any further questions about Maria.