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The International Writers Magazine

Barber Shop Philosopher
Ben Macpherson ain't bitter she's my barber...

“What will it be?” said the short and rather rounded hairdresser in that saccharin drenched tone she must use on every customer from morning until evening.

I seated myself on the patent leather chair. I remember when I was younger when they had to place a small padded board across the arms so I would be tall enough.
“Um, Grade five back and sides, thinned and straight forward please” I said; robotically - as if she should have known anyway. She was new. She wasn’t the one with the red hair that I usually had, or the blonde one with the long face who talked about Christmas in July. Snip.
“Day off work?” she said in the same annoying tone.
“Oh” I said, not really caring, “actually it’s a day off from University”. Clip.
“Oh” she replied. Snip. Nothing. No conversation. Something Corporate was on the radio. Strange, I thought: they’re not that popular in the UK. ‘Grrr’: the razor started; and it was at this point, amidst ‘If U C Jordan’ distorting, the gay hairdresser next door screeching with a cackle, and the whirr of the razor she decided to engage conversation. “What course are you studying?"
I hate it when people ask me that, because I can guarantee their reply. Either they know it all or they know nothing. So, in anticipation of the inevitable I thought I might as well have my five minutes of infamy and brag a bit. “I’m actually studying a double honours degree in English & Creative Arts”. And the inevitable happened. “Oh, that’s interesting”. Then the most stupid question: “What do you have to do for that then?.”
I really did feel like saying “Study Van Gogh and learn Arabic”, but this might have pushed the sarcasm too far. “Read a lot of novels and act a bit here and there”. It was my day off. I didn’t want to talk about University. I wanted to talk about how miserable the weather was; how she had four screaming children at her child minders’ and where I lived in relation to her employment. At a push, I suppose the recent news of serial killer Harold Shipman’s suicide may have made for interesting barber shop conversation. But no: all she did was go on about how she read this and that at school but never really did anything with it. But she could have done! Oh yes, Undergrad in the making was my barber today.

The next level of conversation really did amaze me. We’ve all heard of bar room philosophers’, well this was a barber shop philosopher. I had briefly explained that I had to do some acting in a few weeks for a production of The Threepenny Opera. And then I got caught. I knew the moment I opened my mouth I had made a mistake. “Well, I suppose we all act in a way in every day life don’t we?”. Snip, clip, cut. That’s the last thing I wanted to hear. After being regaled (with little option otherwise) with my barbers views of life and careers prospects for me, I cut my losses after she had cut (too much) of my hair, and left. “Oooh” she said as I paid her the fee. “We’ll be seeing you on television soon then won’t we? And I can say ‘I cut his hair for him when he was at Uni.’”
“Yes. Maybe” I said, leaving the shop. A wry smile attempted to flash across my face. “Keep the change”.

© Ben Macpherson 2004

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