Stories from my Travels #5 – “A Close Shave”

Living a nomadic life has many drawbacks, not least the difficulty of finding a decent barber…

Combing the streets (no pun intended) of a small town on the lesser well-off part of Greater Manchester, I’m pleased to see several barbers almost neighbouring each other, and as I’m on a budget I plump for the cheapest (a dry cut for less than a tenner) and the quietest (only one other client inside).  But as I venture in, I almost immediately begin to regret my decision, and the penny drops that there’s a reason why it’s so quiet.

There are two crimpers on duty, one called Trudy, a peroxided Mancunian, the other named Liz, a Bolton brunette with an orange flash to the fringe, who’s behind the counter making use of the quiet period by having a very loud conversation with her husband.  I say conversation, let’s call it a row, because that’s indeed what it is, and while I say husband, let’s call him a bastard because that’s indeed what she is calling him.

Now at this point you’d think that while Liz’s issues clearly need addressing, she might put them on hold to greet a new customer, namely me.  But no, she merely glances at me and points to a chair to indicate that I should wait, then deftly takes her ‘conversation’ into the back.

Here is my chance to leave the shop instead, but part of me wants to stay, because even though Liz is now ‘offstage’ I can still hear every word.  As can Trudy and her gentleman client.  So I choose to hang around and listen to noises off that go something like this:

Liz:  (OFFSTAGE)  You’re a bastard!

Bastard: (UNHEARD) …

Liz: How can you say that when I have proof!?  You bastard!

Bastard: (UNHEARD) …

Liz:  No!  You’re a liar and a bastard!

And so on.

Now while all this is beginning to tickle me and I’m thinking I’ve spent more than a tenner on lesser entertainment, I might be excused for expecting an apology from Trudy for noises off.  So imagine my surprise/horror/delight when Trudy herself begins to chip in…

Trudy:  You tell him, Liz!

Liz: (STILL OFFSTAGE)  You’re a bastard!

Trudy: You tell the bastard!

Liz:  You’re a bastard and a shit!

By now the tears are rolling down my cheeks, not just because of these two angry women ganging up on the bastard, but also because of the poor client sitting in his chair, terrified that he’s going to lose an ear or even get decapitated – the more Trudy chucks in her oar, the more erratic becomes her scissor-work and the more nervous the poor bloke becomes.  And then his face turns even greener as she shakes with rage while taking a cut-throat razor to the back of his neck…

Trudy:  You tell him, Liz!

Liz: (STILL OFFSTAGE)  When I get home I want you gone!  You’ve gone too far this time!

There follows an eerie silence before we hear the sound of Liz’s nose being blown, while Trudy reaches for the mirror to show the client her handiwork.

“Will that do you, love?” she asks him, “Or d’you want a bit more off?”

“No!” says the man, emphatically.  “No.  It’s perfect thank you.”

Soon after, Liz returns, tears evaporated, nose blown, lipstick smile re-applied, and ushers me to a chair.  Again this is a point at which I could politely take my leave, but somehow and ominously I feel duty-bound to do as I am told.  Admittedly I have grave misgivings as she fastens the gown around my neck, but admittedly she demonstrates an impressive gear-change of professionalism as she proceeds with the “consultation.”  My voice trembles a little as I ask for a short back and sides, No2, tapered at the neck.

But the saga doesn’t end there, because now the other client has coughed up his eight quid and beat a hasty escape into the safety of the street, Trudy is now idle and therefore able to bend Liz’s ear on what precisely the bastard has said in his defence.

“Denied it all, didn’t he?” says Liz.

“What!?” proclaims Trudy.  “When you’ve had it from the horse’s mouth!?”

“Yea.  Typical of the cowardly bastard.”

And so it goes on, until I pluck up the courage to ask Liz if she’d kindly take a bit more off the top.  As Liz duly obliges, she seems to glean that I am tiring of the performance and finally calms down.

“Bet you fink it’s a madhouse, this?” she says.

“Not at all,” I say, perhaps unwisely, “I’ve seen Sweeney Todd and this is a comparative picnic.”

“You watch a lot of telly then?”

“Yes,” I say, “It’s my job.”

“So what d’you do?”

“I write soap operas,” I explain, definitely unwisely.

“Never!” says Liz.  “Here Trude, he writes the soaps!”

“Yea?” says Trudy, “We could give him a story or two!”

“You don’t say,” I say.

Now while I confess to reservations and in fact sheer terror of ending up with no hair (or even head) I have to admit that Liz isn’t doing a bad job, and I am more than prepared to part with my eight quid.  We’ve also had a constructive and intelligent conversation or two about what Liz and Trudy think is wrong with the soaps at the moment.

So having been suitably crimped and happily entertained, I offer a two pound tip and as Liz calls me “a true gent” I gather the confidence to offer an opinion of my own.

“True gent, eh?  Unlike your husband.”

“Too right,” she says,  “I wouldn’t call him a true gent.  Know what I’d call him?”

“A bastard?” I say.

“Got it in one.  He’s gone too far this time.”

Unable to quench my desire for the whole story, I ask what exactly the bastard did.

“I don’t even wanna fink about it!” she says, and scuttles tearfully into the back, three steps nearer to a breakdown.  I feel terrible, voyeuristic and horribly predatory to be so eager for the story. 

“I’m sorry,” I say to Trudy, “I think I may have upset her.  I feel a bit of a bastard now.”

“Not your fault, love,” says Trudy, “You’re not the bastard who shagged his wife’s sister.”

First published on Adventures from the Ottermobile.

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