THE ART of conversation will never die while we have coherent barbers and hairy heads willing to listen.
There was a time when labour was cheap, when it was no bother to hire a man to hold a seat next to a confession box or a barber’s chair.
I remember such men and may I say that theirs was a worthy calling. Men who were involved to the hilt with business of making a living could not afford to spend all day waiting to be shriven of their transgressions or their excess hair.
Consequently they were forced to search for men whose posteriors were hardened to the business of sitting down all day and whose thoughts never soared much farther than the prospect of porter in return for their labours.
But now these are no more and we live in the age of the good times. If a man wants a haircut these days he must wait for it like anybody else or do without it.
While this may occupy a man’s time without material profit he should remember that there is much to be learned while he waits in a barber’s shop.
Let us, for the benefit of the student, take the classic situation in the parlour of the tonsorial artist.
A number of men are waiting. Some fumble with newspapers, others with magazines while more examine their nails and fingers as if they contemplated doing something about them.
Whatever the pursuit all eyes are fixed from time to time on the poll of the man who occupies the cutting platform, ie the shearing seat. Depression sets in if the occupant is a man who fancies his head of hair. He will be looking for concessions like a half-trim or a little bit off the top.
This sort could keep the rest of the customers waiting all day and there is nothing that they or the barber can do about it. Give me the man who trusts the barber’s intuition and judgement, who has come to get his hair cut and no more.
While he is in the chair you have a happy barber’s shop. He will be shorn in no time at all. No frills for him, whereas the man who fancies his mop reminds me of the man in the confession box who has left it go for years.
A heavy depression settles over the parlour. It is, however, of short duration because all the barbers are men of mettle. Sensing that his clients are becoming unsettled and impatient he lifts his eyes from the head to which he is committed.
“There was this Irish fellow working in London,” he opens. Immediately he has an interested audience. The gloom is about to lift.
“He decided to bring his mother over for a holiday,” the barber goes on. “In the digs with him with an Indian who always proudly wore his turban wherever he went. The Indian agreed to look after Paddy’s mother until he finished work in the evenings. The Indian did a good job. He couldn’t have been more attentive.
“At the end of the holiday the old lady was saying her goodbyes. She took the Indian by the hand. ‘Good luck with you now,’ she says, ‘and I hope your head will be better the next time I come.’”
The story is a success and there is laughter. There are other stories from the customers. After the stories come the items of news and once these are circulated, comment upon them is expected. The barber always acts as chairman.
I cannot recall the number of haircuts I have received over my lifetime, but I never can recall a dull one.
Always there has been the exceptional anecdote, the uncommon comment and the unfailing supply of accurate information about minor and major development in the area.
One never surmises in a barber shop. One has to be authentic because there will be other shaves and other haircuts when falsehoods will be remembered and the culprit brought to justice.
I’ll grant you that perjury is possible in a court of law, but perjury is not possible in a barber’s shop. It is not possible because the barber’s parlour is a place where all minds are united for the common good and all information is screened and pooled to further the pursuit of knowledge.
Ask any wife if you don’t believe me. None will deny that they have learned more after a husband’s haircut than they have from a dozen visits to the beauty salon.