2000 words

January 2016

So I’m sat on a bench at the barbershop just waiting my turn. It’s been 10 minutes since I walked in and asked how long until I could get my hair cut. 10 minutes the barber had said so I sat down and perused my phone. There was a video circulating about some hooligans who tossed up a café in north London, this was the day after Arsenal v Chelsea at the Bridge. Truth is, I couldn’t find any evidence of the recent carnage, the friend who had sent it had been hoodwinked, the footage was from a while back when the Chelsea fans were destroying Istanbul.


The man in front of me in the queue is getting his long ‘fro cut off. The man is mid-forties from what I can tell, his hair is inflected with grey and it’s long and natty, Don King style. I can’t quite work it out because this guy looks scruffy and he looks Ethiopian so it’s puzzling me cause my experience is that these Habesha folk are well groomed. I’m not talking about back home, because I travelled to Addis once and boy, unkempt was definitely one of the looks over there. But here in London these people are repping an orderly style. It’s not until the guy waiting next to me, who definitely looks Habesha, speaks to the barber that it confirms it. I can tell, Brother is definitely Habesha.


I thought I might have to wait for this fella next to me to finish a trim as well but thankfully he’s just here with a member of his family. I’m judging that because the culture still has a lot of respect for familial ties and from what I can tell, the brother getting his hair cut is ill. He’s got a glazed vacant look in his eyes and as I mentioned he is unkempt, and that’s unusual. When he leaves it’s confirmed. The one next to me helps his… let’s say cousin... out the chair, holding him by his arm and guiding him out the shop. Can’t tell what’s up with him exactly but he’s infirm, poor guy.


Like I was saying I’m sitting there on my phone when this bloke walks in. He might be of Caribbean descent, but he’s not a yardie like the barber. He's a Brit through and through. I’d bet he was a Londoner too but I don’t bet and - would you believe it - he’s a Chelsea fan too. Not just a fan but part of the firm. Don’t what he’s doing here apart from waiting for his buddy, a Tottenham fan, who he’s supposed to meet here, so he’s just standing there chatting away. Can’t really recall too tough what he was on about and truth be told, I wasn’t too interested, I was still getting to the bottom of this hooligan video. My ears probably only picked up a bit of interest because he was a Chelsea fan and of what I was doing on my phone. I remember he was giving it the big one about his firm and his mate’s firm and so on and so forth. The 10 minutes is up and I’m checking to see how long I’ll be here, but the barber is efficient and in the end I only have to wait about 15 minutes. In the meantime the Chelsea fan leaves, he says he’ll be back, but that’s the last I see of him. His mate though, the Spurs fan, will be here in a minute.


I ready myself for the chair, once the two Habesha folk leave. I only get a trim once a year and last year I went for an Emmanuel Adebayor cut, and it was short. The women in my life tell me long hair suits me. I can agree with that, but my hair is so long now it’s hard to handle. It’s knotty, impossible to brush and I’m constantly picking tight tangled bundles out. I find it therapeutic. It’s disgusting though, and people catch problems with the little deposits of hair I scatter about behind sofas, on the street, just wherever. On top of that it takes a few hours for my hair to dry out after I wash and I can’t be having that so I’m getting a trim, whether it suits me or not.

I look around the barbershop and Tyson is in a couple of photos. Not washed up tattoo’ed Tyson but peak Mike Tyson. Must have been over a decade ago because the barber is in the photo too and he’s definitely gathered a few years since then. I can’t lie, Tyson’s hair in side profile is looking rather sexy and when the barber asks me what I’m after I say I’ll take what he’s got, pointing to the boxer. A wedge, I’m told.


Must have been a few minutes into my trim when the Spurs fan walks in. All I know is that my head is being traumatised because the clippers are struggling with the knots and my head keeps getting ripped back, my hair is breaking and my scalp hurts like fuck. At first, I’m not paying too much attention to the guy who just walked in, except I’m conscious that his friend was waiting for him here and it’s unfortunate for them that they’ve not yet crossed paths.


He’s got through the worst of my hair; most of it’s off. The end of the trauma for this year and now comes the gentle pruning, and a chance for this barber to display his artistry. In general, I like to mind my own business so my ears don’t really prick up until I hear mention of Donald Trump. Now can this man talk, not Trump, although he can too, I'm talking about this chap in the barbers with me. I’m starting to think that he must have started speaking just then because I would have been unable to ignore this booming voice through my thoughts, because this here is an Orator. A serious O..Ray.Tor! I can’t say I agree with what he’s saying but I’m not there disagreeing even though truthfully I’m not into Donald Trump, I think the man is a clown.


To be fair, I think we’re on the same page because he’s just called him a clown too. With a quick glance around the shop at headnods and shakes I realise with the fluid power of those with the gift of rhetoric he's made out like he represents my view, and the view of everyone listening: everyone is hearing exactly what they want to hear. Like I say, I’m sceptical about this line of dialogue although not actively disagreeing. First up, he’s talking about how, true say, Donald Trump is an idiot but what he’s saying is not wrong, about immigrants at least. Governments around are just letting them in, no border controls, of course there is a problem there... it’s out of control. Obama is not doing shit to stop it. What about the German, Angela Merkel? Nothing.


And look right here in Britain, what is our own government doing? The British government – stupid fuckers that they are – are just letting every Tom, Dick and Harry into the country and what? Where are they putting them? In brand new fucking houses, while us, people like you and me, are stuck in old fucking terraced houses that are all falling to shit. No, me and my missus been on the waiting list for over ten years and what, are we closer to being put in one of those nice new houses? NO! Nowhere near! If they want to come to our country, they can start at the bottom like we did, cleaning, driving, factory work, nursing. This government is upsetting the apple cart.


Now that I think about it, I’m not saying that a country like Britain has unlimited capacity. All I know is that I’ve always sympathised with immigrants because even though I’ve got a burgundy tucked up in my drawer and I can’t call on another travel document to cross borders, to be frank I’m not feeling too far removed from my old pops who was the first in his family come to the UK, and he never got the passport. I’m a little touched by this point of view because I’m looking at him thinking look at us, I’m sure we’re looking like immigrants to most people out here in the UK. Then again everyone on this little island has moved or come from somewhere else, even nobility if you look past the veneer, so I guess it just depends on your cut-off point, and this guy is absolutely gunning for recent immigrants, from wherever, and those who have just popped over our European border with no checks.

The tirade is so true and fast, I tried for a moment to just concentrate on the sterling job the barber was undertaking and gather my thoughts because I was having trouble forming my own opinions,  my thoughts were scrambled, but there is no time, no time at all because guy’s delivery could not be stemmed, trust me.


He continued. Listen to me, listen. This government is taking the piss out of all of us. You see what they’re doing to nurses and doctors... disgraceful! They should be ashamed of themselves, undervaluing them like that. There they are working day through night, every week saving people’s lives and does that plonker, what’s his name, care? What’s his name?? Jeremy Hunt. That’s right, what’s he saying? He’s saying no, you are not having anymore money, no matter the hours they work. What can the doctors and nurses do? They can’t go on strike becar if they go on strike then people die. Simple as. People die. People DIE. They can’t do that, they just can’t.

Let me tell you what they need, they need a little of my cold heart. They need a piece of my cold fucking heart! It was me, I’d just walk away and say who’s gonna cure people now, pay me. Pay me right. Listen… he motioned about, firefighters!! What do they do? When do they strike? When do you think? When.. do… you bloody think…? BON..FUCKING….FIRE….NIGHT…. because Jeremy Hunt or whichever other mug is not going to sit there on November fifth watching his house burn down, no chance! Watch them run back to the negotiating table.


To tell the truth, that had me going, I couldn’t keep a straight face. My head is shaking, and the barber’s professionalism is under threat as he also struggles to keep his hands still. I’m still smiling to myself as the barber perfects the trim. My head is burning slightly and itching like crazy and I’m looking nothing like Mike Tyson, but the cut is good. The raconteur, having peaked, is out of gas. He’s drifted onto football, politics is off the menu, and others are feeling emboldened to finally speak up.

I’m brushed down and sprayed. It burns, it’s not something I’m used to and neither is having my hair short. I run my hands over my head looking at myself wistfully. I went to see a comedian last week and he was funny but like I was discussing with Ola, you meet jokers all around you, and I haven’t been this entertained in a long while. I’m on my way so I ask how much. £10 is all. I turn to the barber, I want to share a look to acknowledge that this has been a thought-provoking twenty minutes but he’s here all the time and he beckons over the next customer. I pay and as I leave nod to the man still speaking, he returns a look and then looks away, concocting his next yarn. The barbershop, till next year.