I’ve been going to Duke Street Barbers in Reading for about eight years now. Prior to that, a ladies’ hairdresser called Diane had come to the house every six weeks, done Viv’s hair and thrown in a trim for me, but once that couldn’t be sustained I took a friend’s recommendation and ended up at Duke Street.
It’s definitely a gent’s barber’s shop: it says, or at least implies, as much on the signboard outside the door, which even sports the once traditional red-and-white barber’s pole (which is, as I’m sure you know, a relic from the days when barbers were also surgeons, and so bandaged wounded limbs, evidently not very efficiently). It has eight chairs and, as far as I can tell, up to four barbers. There are a couple of long-termers, but apart from them the staff turnover is high. I’ve had my hair cut by lots of charming barbers, male and female – the unisex rule applies only to the clientele, not the operatives – but rarely the same one more than twice.
So I wasn’t surprised to find a new guy bouncing out of the back room when I called in the other day for my usual light scissor trim. (I learned a few years ago that this was what to order, having disastrously experimented with the various grades of razor cut – they run from one (bald) to eight (nearly bald).) He greeted me effusively, which usually puts me off, as making small talk whilst being gently tortured doesn’t come naturally to me. But this guy disarmed me straight away by telling me how much hair I had, and by implication how much he was looking forward to sculpting it. I alluded to the cranial bald patch, and he pointed out that I’m fairly tall, so people won’t usually notice it. I thought it best not to argue the point.
He was a damn good haircutter (I’ve been complimented on the job he did) but also a very engaging conversationalist. He’d spent some time in Spain before coming to England, loved it, learnt the language, had I ever been to Spain? Given another twenty minutes, I like to think he’d have invited me to accompany him on a holiday to Marbella, but that wasn’t to be. Turned out he was originally from Morocco. We need more immigrants like him.
The best bit was when the chat turned back to my luxuriant rug. I don’t understand why blokes who have a good healthy crop choose to reap it all off with a number one. “They think it makes them look hard,” my friend said. “They’re right, it does,” I replied. “Yes,” he said. “But it doesn’t make them hard.”