Tuesday, 5 July 2011

"A short back and sides ?" "No, just give him a trim."


It can surprise you how sometimes things don't change that much. In late May of this year, 2011, I retraced my steps and found J.W. Peters, which is a gentleman's hairdresser's shop at the junction of Lochee High Street and Bright Street. The way most places change so quickly these days I was astonished that there was a barber's shop there, and that it also still bore the name,  J.W.Peters. As I peered into the shop window even the interior looked as it had  over 60 years ago with its wooden screen about five foot high which guarded the privacy of the customer having his hair snipped by the barber's long thin steel scissors and that of the other customers who no doubt were sitting  waiting for their turn. Although so much had remained the same, the barber was different.  I could just catch a glimpse of the top of  his head above the screen as he manoeuvred around a customer. It was the top of the head of a young man with short black hair,and not at all like the head of the man I have always considered the original J.W.Peters who, when I first encountered him in the August 1950, was a tall young man of about 30 years of age with a full head of blonde hair which had a series of natural parallel waves running across his head from one side to the other. This might sound quite exotic but I remember it as a style a number of men favoured in those times.
On a sepia day, so long ago, but still so present in my mind, my Daddy took me into this very barber's shop and we sat together on a long bench to wait while the people who had arrived before us took their turn to have a haircut. Nobody sat in any particular order and so it was a puzzle to me then and remained so for a number of years on subsequent visits how people calculated whose turn it was to be seated at the barber's chair. It seemed to me that an amazing feat of memory was being performed. When it came to my turn to be presented to J.W.Peters, the latter rested a short wooden plank on the arms of his barber's chair in order for me, a very wee boy at the time, to have a platform to sit on which would raise me to an elevation sufficient for J.W.Peters to set about his work. Daddy sat me on the plank and returned to the bench.  J.W. Peters wrapped around me something that appeared to be a white cotton bed sheet and tucked it into my collar. He turned to Daddy and asked, "Short,back and sides?"
" No," Daddy replied, "just give him a trim." I don't recollect much about actually having my haircut but I remember the distinctly sweet, slightly medicinal smelling hair cream which J.W.Peters rubbed into my hair before combing it. I survived all this without undue anxiety. When the ritual was complete,  J.W.Peters turned to Daddy and ascertained whether what he had done to my hair was satisfactory or not. Daddy nodded and I was lifted from the wooden plank and stood on the brown linoleum covered floor. Daddy paid him sixpence.
That was the first haircut I ever had in a barber's shop and though I didn't really know then or indeed don't today with any certainty just what "a trim" was or is, it is what, since then, I have always asked for when I have gone for a haircut. I am sure it is a sanctified phrase in the lingua franca that barbers have spoken over the centuries. Every time I sit in the barber's chair and the sheet has been wrapped around me, I say, "I'll have a trim, please," and without a question asked, the barber proceeds.

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