My old mate Richie was clippering dangerously upon my left earlobe. I was watching him closely, fearful lest he should draw blood again.

“Fuck me but your ears are fucking hairy. What do you do, rub ’em with horseshit?”  Every time Richie cuts my hair he draws attention to my ears and/or my eyebrows, both of which he dutifully presents eventually in their best light. He also has a Noel Edmonds gameshow playing on the telly, presumably on a moebius strip of light entertainment leading to that dark place between infinity and eternity, where even the void between the empty spaces is hairsprayed to within an inch of its existence and is exquisitely manicured and groomed with a well fitting tailored shirt. I bet there are no skids on the tails, too. Noel’s just too fastidious.

“No,” I replied, wincing as his gaze fixed on an ageing buxom hottie walking past and the blades of the clipper pinched lightly upon a morsel of my ear. “I need a haircut for Johnnie Opera’s funeral. And I’m hoping to get away for a week next month.” One lie, one truth.  Johnnie Opera’s not even dead. But I haven’t seen him for a while, so it’s best to be prepared. And yes, it’s the time of year when my little spouse Juanita spends a raucous few days with the girls from work somewhere in Alicante, so in order not to feel too left out I book myself a week in Greece. I haven’t yet decided if it will be Corfu Crete or Symi. Or possibly Patmos. One or the other though. And before the middle of June, to be sure.  A huge mistake conversation wise though as it gives Richie the opportunity to launch into his second favourite subject. Which would be shagging pensioners in Mediterranean fleshpots, something which he seems to constantly indulge in, or at the very least fantasise about a lot, and I don’t. He began an oft recounted tale of his about an old dear who he met at a Karaoke night once in Magaluf.


“She was sixty five if she was a day. There with her daughter. She’d fucked off with some Spaniard. I bought her a drink so she owed me. I told her, you come up to my room love, and you won’t get no rest all night. I shag you, you’ll know you’ve been shagged. You’ll probably carry the scars for the rest of you life to prove it.” He leered at the memory, imagined or not.

“You must spend fucking hours in front of the mirror rehearsing lines like that, fine tuning the seduction technique, Richie. Well?”

“Well what? She came up to my room. I shagged her. Didn’t let her sleep all night.” He smirked in the mirror. I had a sudden flashback type experience, of an evening spent watching one of my favourite films over a bottle or two of rioja and the odd snifter of ronsonol. The words came tumbling out.

“If I medicined you, you’d think a brain tumour was a birthday party. Oh Richie, I’m glad you don’t wear eyeliner.”  And I screamed at him to get the clippers away as I tried to convulse silently with laughter. Ricky frowned and held the clippers, still clippering away, an inch or two away from my eyeball.

“Don’t be a cunt. What are you talking about? Eyeliner? What fucking eyeliner? And I didn’t need any medicine. She probably needed some vaseline for the rest of the week though. I don’t think she had a tumour, either. I fucking hope not.”

“Ah, Richie, you’re the last of nature’s true gentlemen, you really are,” I told him. “Tell me, why do you always have Noel Edmonds on the telly? Do you like his beard? Do you marvel at the immobility of his mane? Is it the contestants? Do you like to answer the questions? Or is it his shirts with the shit free tails?”

Richie looked blankly at me. “Who? What the fuck are you talking about now?”

I gestured at the telly. “Him. The bloke on the telly. Noel Edmonds. Every time I come for a haircut, he’s on the telly.”

Richie studied the tv screen in silence for a moment.

“Who? Is that who he is? He’s a cunt.”

By now Richie had finished with my hair and his mate Ollie was interfering with Bobby the dachsund in the basket in the corner. One of them was growling. The other was visibly excited. I sometimes worry about what goes on behind open doors. I avoid closed ones for obvious reasons.

I got up and paid Richie, including a tip of £2 for the ears, the eyebrows and the absence of too much visible blood.

“Your turn Ollie,” I told him. “Ask Richie about his holiday last year.”

I went back across the road to my shop and had a restorative cup of fresh filter coffee. God, but life is good sometimes.

And then you go and get a haircut.


Man in a Hat

The Fretful Mathew was paused in the doorway. It was Friday afternoon, and his appetites were satisfied. He was about to leave but could not quite tear himself away from the threshold of my shop. This often happens. The Fretful one will stand there, clothed in his awkwardness like a sixty seven year old virgin who can’t quite make up their mind if the feast of nubility spread out before them will ever be worth the sheer embarrassment and inevitable stickiness that will surely occur if they take that final step and plunge into the abyss.

“Well Graham, I er, may not see you tomorrow. My parents are buried in West Sussex. And the strip light seems to have failed above the organ keyboard and I have a wedding to play for tomorrow afternoon. So I may see you on Monday.”  Mathew has been a worried man of late, but it was good to see him returning to his habitual lucidity.

“bye Mathew. See you next week. Try not to fret too much,” I bid him a fond adieu.

I returned to the shop and was glad of the single vowel. Imagine, owning a shoop! Especially in this town.  All that was left of  the day’s custom were the three sibyls, Trish, Lin and Mo. Who go big on single syllables.  Discussing all manner of things that they don’t really understand. Mo is the most unfortunate of Trish’s three adult daughters. She has a severe eating disorder. Hence Trish’s unfailing insistence on them meeting in a high street retail bakery slash coffee shop.

“But I won’t mention food to you again Mo. Because you just rear up at me don’t you? You rear up! So we won’t mention food again, will we Mo? You’re looking so thin though. Are you sure you won’t…?”

In the corner sat a man in a hat. A wide brimmed job in olive drab felt, I’d say, with a blue ribbon around the crown. He had been working on a tablet type mobile device, but AS SO OFTEN HAPPENS, HIS ATTENTION WAS GRADUALLY ENSNARED BY THE GIRLS’ CONVO. You may think that I was virtually shouting there to ensnare your wavering and dozing attention, or possibly there is a great significance to those words, a significance which will be revealed at a later point after much exposition and hesitance on my part, but the truth is that I accidentally hit the CapsLock button and really couldn’t be arsed to go back and delete and retype it. The girls occasionally solicited his opinion, and now and again, when they were really really struggling on a point of fact, asked him to clear up on the odd detail.

Anyway they were now discussing Kindles and eReaders, items which none of them have ever used or even seen in closer detail than in a magazine advert. They were telling each other how much you can learn from these devices. It was a wonderful conversation, entertaining and filled with diverting little anecdotes which all bore a quite worrying  resemblance to things which you might hear when you have ingested chemicals various and life-threatening and you really should try and get some sleep.

The man sat there, slowly shaking his head in wonder and in awe. He spoke.

“Ladies, I have to go now, to catch a train. But it’s been wonderful listening in and being allowed to share this afternoon in your company. I feel that I’ve learned from you. So thank you. Thank you so much.”

He walked past me on his way to the door. Thanked me, he did.

“Thanks” I said. “What have you learned? Never to come in here on a Friday afternoon again?”  After giving me a look that hovered somewhere between heartfelt sympathy and utter contempt, he thanked me again and left.

On Sunday I took my little Granddaughter on the train up to London for the day. We saw Buckingham Palace, where the guards they were a-changing and the tourists were a-flocking, we went to Westminster where we stood beneath Big Ben and walked across the bridge and then back for a stroll along the Embankment with an ice cream, then on to Trafalgar Square and briefly went into St Martin in the Fields, where a Chinese lady vicar was holding a service in Mandarin. Jess looked up at me, as though she expected me to know something about what was going on. She’s only seven. She’ll learn.

“Stick with me kid,” I advised little Jess, “for this is the shape of things to come when you visit the big city with me.” Then in the afternoon I took her to the V&A Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green. It’s a good place to visit, with or without children. I saw things from my childhood that I’d forgotten all about. All was good. We shared a bag of olives on the journey home.