Richie was gnawing on his thoughts, such as they were, much like a Staffie does with an infant’s face. He was cutting my hair, being a barber like what he is, and his conversation was focused on his favourite current subject. His haircut technique, incidentally, involves trimming a bit, standing back, looking miserable, studying the bit he’s just trimmed, discussing women he’d like to shag but hasn’t quite got round to yet, then after briefly and distractedly  scratching his groin, returning to the job in hand. Of the three barbers in town, he’s the most convenient. He also wears a flat cap.

“So, I just don’t get it. You went on holiday by yourself. And you never shagged any old ladies? I don’t believe you. If it was me, I’d have been shagging them all like a good ‘un. There’s always loads of old ladies looking for it. I’d have had them all back in my room, I’d have told them I had something nice to show them. And they wouldn’t be leaving until they’d seen it. Ha ha. And your Anita let you go on your own? My old lady wouldn’t have.”

I broke in upon his sordid train of fantasy, as he stepped back to admire his work. He sucked in hard and shook his head. In a builder it’s usually a worrying sign that something unexpected’s going to add a couple of hundred to the eventual invoice but with Richie it just means he’s internalising some vile sexual fantasy involving a non-consenting pensioner.

“Richie, my holiday was way back in the summer. Find something else to think about why don’t you? And it’s not a case of her “letting” me go. She goes away with her friends sometimes. I go away on my own sometimes, because I don’t have any friends whose company I could tolerate for more time than it takes to have a haircut, if you know what I mean, and usually we go away together. I think you’ve missed a bit there, me old mate.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Richie sighed. “I was about to do that bit. It makes me think though. You go away on your own. There’s women available. You don’t get a shag. You a queer or something? If you don’t mind me asking. I know you’re married and everything, but you know. Queers get married too. I read about it.” Once again, after snipping a few single hairs, he’d stepped back to drink in the results of his labours.

“Richie! You’re cutting my hair, you’re not restoring the Sistine Fucking Chapel. I want a haircut, it shouldn’t really be that difficult. And listen, I didn’t want a shagging holiday, I wanted to walk in the hills and swim in the sea and spend time winding my fragile psyche down to a tolerable level of numbness. And I’m not a queer, as you so charmingly put it. Do you actually get any queers in here for a haircut? And if you do, do they ever come back for more? And why isn’t Wee Fraser here any more?”

Richie turned to Ollie, the sullenly ginger man wearing a hi-vis bolero who had been patiently waiting his turn for a trim.

“See Ollie? I always told you he was the sensitive sort, didn’t I?”

Ollie was watching a game show on the telly. He looked at Richie. He looked into the mirror at me. Not a flicker of animation crossed his features.

“Alright Rich?” He asked Richie. “Alright mate? You nearly finished?” He asked me.

Richie indicated that he only had my eyebrows, ears and the tragic overhang where my nose meets my forehead to finish de-tufting and he would indeed be finished.

Life is usually sweet, but it’s sometimes like living in the village of the fucking damned.


Down to the Cuttle

I’ve been trying to make space in one of the freezers in the outhouse, across the yard from the back door, you see?

And I found, hiding tremulously behind a bag of plaice which recently fell off the back of a local trawler but which I carefully gutted and individually wrapped, a paper parcel containing the hard frozen, almost ready to use corpses of a half dozen small cuttlefish. Seppies.

So, the next day when they’d defrosted overnight, I cut them each into four, one part being the tentacled section. It’s a strange beast, is the cuttlefish. It has a small, parrot like beak which you’re best off removing as it’s a bugger to chew on. And there’s a small tube-like protuberance in the middle of the face, which I was once seriously informed is the creature’s anus. We were very drunk at the time, but I have a horrible feeling that it is in fact the voiding part, so I’m always careful to cut and discard.

I sliced a small onion, a couple of chunky cloves of garlic and a sweet red pepper, which I softened in some olive oil, before adding the by now irrevocably dead cuttlefish. After a minute or two I poured in a glass of some lovely deep red rioja and I sipped another. The bits in the pan were then seasoned with some salt, black pepper and a grind of wild rigani that I got in Corfu back in the summer. I simmered it very gently for a few more minutes and then added a small cup of tinned chopped tomatoes.

You have the heat as low as you can get it, so the food trembles and quivers rather than bubbling. While all this quivering and sipping and stuff was going on, I was boiling some of the lovely square sectioned spaghetti al chitarra you get in the co-op, for about twelve or so minutes, which you have to then drain quickly and return to a pan which is afloat with olive oil and black pepper. You have to.

When you’ve done that, you can come back into my kitchen where I will then splash a little bit of cream into the tomatoey cuttlefish sauce and pour it over the spaghetti which I have now put in my lovely deep bowl. Then we can eat it together. You’ll love it, I promise.

Poly nosteemo, my friend.

My Dilemma

Kaff was talking at me again.

“Look, Graham, I’m seventy four years old,” she bragged. “It’s time I retired. I want to retire. I’m tired. I’m getting slow. Please, let me retire.”

I was torn. What to say? You don’t get employees like Kaff working for you every day. Well, not since I relented on her last request and cut her days to two a week you don’t, anyway.. She’d be bored if she didn’t have to come work twice a week. And they’re only four hour shifts, for heaven’s sake. I felt myself weakening. Be strong, be strong, I told myself.

“Kaff, think about it. You’d age horribly without spending a bit of time with me here. I’m a proxy Dorian Gray. You’d miss me. I’d be tempted to charge you full price when you came in as a customer. And looking at it from my point of view, and you can call me sentimental, I won’t take offence, but I want you to work here till your last breath. Doesn’t that stir the romantic in you? And anyway, a funeral wreath comes in far cheaper than a retirement do.”

Kaff looked sad.

“Will you think about it? Please?”

I smiled, in a vaguely non-comitted sort of way.