Something For The Weekend, Sir? – The Lost And Mysterious World Of The Barber Shop
When I was a little boy, back in the 1970’s, my dad used to have to chase me down and physically drag me off to get my hair cut. It was always on a Saturday and Saturdays were my time for skateboarding and riding around on my Chopper bike. It was just the hairs down the back of my neck I was avoiding though. I was actually strangely fascinated by the barber shop once I had actually been abducted there.
The first thing that hit you when you walked into a Seventies barber shop was the smell. An unmistakable mixture of the leather strop and that rich, dark odour that you only got as a male head was divested of its wool when Brylcreem was the only hair product available.
Well actually that’s not quite true. There were hairsprays for men. They came in black or red cans and were called things like “Cossack” and “Falcon”. This fooled no-one and these products were only used by rich playboys and narcissistic tossers. Not the kind of customer who frequented the sort of back street hair emporium my dad used to take me to.
The second thing that you noticed on entering a Seventies was how masculine an environment it was. Up until my dad took me for a haircut for the first time, my mum cut my hair. Or one of my mum’s many friends cut my hair. When my hair was cut, there were always women around, usually exclusively women. No women in the Seventies barber shop though.
It’s not that women were banned as such, it’s just that it would never even occur to any woman to set foot in a barber shop. It wasn’t misogyny, it was just a cultural impossibility. Barber shops sold strange things. Gigantic tubes of industrial strength Brylcreem and styptic pencils. Exotic varieties of razor blade and, of course, condoms. You could only buy condoms in chemists and barber shops back then and a woman would no more buy a packet of those than a man would have bought a packet of tampons.
Another thing my childhood barber shop sold was comics. Well, one comic in particular, though it was on a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, “I’ll fetch it from out of the back room” sort of basis. That comic was Viz, and my barber’s was one of the few places in my native city of Newcastle where you could buy it in 1979. The barber himself, Paul, used to get the odd bit of publicity from the boys at Viz. They would occasionally post a caption which said “A barber shop, yesterday” and the picture above that caption would always be of Paul’s shop.
The main thing that made my visits to the barber interesting was his collection of old comic annuals. Defunct titles like Valiant and Thunder with strange characters in them, like Janus Stark and Adam Eterno. The enclosed and oddly masculine world of the barber shop used to melt away around me when I read those.
There aren’t many proper barber shops around anymore. If you know of a good one, feel free to tell me about it. I’d quite like to catch a whiff of my Seventies childhood, just for an hour or so. I’ve already tracked down all of those annuals I used to read and bought them. All I need now is some industrial Brylcreem.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014