A decent barber shop is a haven. I’ve enjoyed them over the years. I’ve had hair cut near stations, in suburbs, above a great gents’ outfitters in Oxford. I’ve enjoyed the wonderful (and wallet-busting) refinement of Jermyn Street’s older establishments, outshone only by the marvellous basement of the US Capitol, where cigar ashtrays recess in chrome of the fabulous chairs, their arms scuffed with generations of cufflinks and footrests polished by decades of socks as shoes are taken away and cleaned. As stages of life have passed so have styles: I’ve gone through the flat top, the curtains styling of my teenaged nineties, and arrived at a style as familiar to the 1940s as today. As I’ve sat in these chairs watched the milestones of pass as the colour of the hair floating to the floor has changed from brown to silver.
My current barber shop of choice is a family affair.
The Boy and I go together. Our barber shop is a Cardiff institution, in a basement with the edgy best of this fantastic city. Every background waits its turn, for there are no appointments. Straight razors are used with skill and finesse. Only men cut your hair. Mams, it is suggested with gentle respect, are welcome to wait. But few do. In deference to the presence of gentlemen of tender years, the language is moderated, but only slightly.
We went there first one Christmas Eve. Shopping done, we called in for the second of the gents’ ritual after the last-minute dash for a present for The Lady. We’re now regulars, bouncing down the stairs and into the unique atmosphere of barbicide, cologne, and chatter.
What has he learned? There’s a reason he’s a favourite there. He knows to sit up, to stay still, to speak as men do and opine with gruff authority about sport. He knows to shift up on the battered leather bench when it’s been his turn and Dad is still being clipped and shaved. He knows that lollies are produced for diminutive chaps who play their cards right. He knows it’s right that clubs, workplaces, pubs now open to everyone, and long may it be so. But he also knows that in harmless tradition there remain a few places on earth once described by an old Apparel Arts advert as “the last unfallen citadels in the invaded land of Man.” Our barbershop and the experience of a boy going with his Dad for a haircut is one of them.
He also knows that we go for a pint afterwards. If and when he has a little boy of his own, I hope he’ll do the same one day.