Sunday, 4 May 2014

Having a bad hair day ...

The classic Eric Longworth cut,
with tuft controlled by Fairy soap
What should I do with my hair? It's been something of a problem all my life.
When I was very small, I used to scream and cry when I was taken to the barber for a haircut (Max did the same when he was little). I remember my mum trying to appease me with an ice-lolly (without success) and, finally, I think she was told not to bring me any more.
There was a switch to a new barber - Eric Longworth, whose shop used to be at Lostock Gralam crossroads (later opposite the church). There was a lot of positive therapy from my mother before the first visit to Longworth's and much talking up of how wonderful it was. Eric Longworth was a young man, he had a smooth, tanned face, Brylcreemed hair; he was a smooth talker in the best barber mould and the interesting Eric Longworth fact was that he played water polo - something of an exotic sport.
Looking back, I wonder if my mum fancied Eric Longworth?
My tonsurephobia (fear of haircuts) must have been deep-seated. I think it related to having my ear stabbed with scissors and told to sit still by the old barber, who sat you in a wooden chair. Eric Longworth had modern, adjustable chairs that went up and down; he also had electric clippers that didn't stab your ears. I remember my first visit quite clearly. I'd been told I had to be good, be a big boy and not make a fuss. Eric had the same name as me (which was interesting - apart from my dad, I didn't know any other Erics) and he also took a lot of time to show me things and make the visit a good experience. It was an investment well made - my relationship with him lasted from being about four years old until I moved to Warrington at the age of 21.
Short to avoid helmet hair, but it
needs too much product
It was at Eric Longworth's however, that I first experienced that difficult barber question: how would you like it? I didn't know back then and I still don't know now.
The stock answer was "short back and sides please", but that always left me slightly dissatisfied. Eric told my mother that I had a bit of hair at the front which grew in the wrong direction (Sam also had a tuft, so it's clearly genetic). He told her it would be a problem if it wasn't trained, so I had a variety of products applied to keep it where it should be. There was Dr Page-Barker's lotion (which also prevented dandruff and set into a crisp crust), Brylcreem (this was the 1950s) and Fairy soap (my mum's stand-by solution).
In the kitchen, we used to always have a big bar of green Fairy soap. It was used for handwashing and also for scrubbing floors, surfaces, etc. Stains on clothing would be rubbed with Fairy before going into the washing machine. If my hair was standing up in the morning before school, mum used to rub the wet bottom of the soap on my fringe and comb it through. That set with an even firmer crust than Dr Page-Barkers (although it didn't smell as nice).
I had a short back and sides throughout boyhood, but mum died when I was 11 and from that point my hair was my responsibility (although I still had no idea what I wanted to do with it). Eric Longworth had pictures of handsome male models on his walls to inspire you to do different things, but I never plucked up the courage to say: "I want one like that."
Grammar school imposed a strict hair regime. It wasn't allowed to grow over the ears and sideboards/sideburns couldn't be grown down beyond the point where your ear attached to your head; so, essentially, a short back and sides was the ideal cut.
Longer - too long?
As the Swinging Sixties finally reached Northwich, we pushed the boundaries at school and the old rules were relaxed. My hair grew longer, but not that much longer, and my tuft seemed to have been trained by all those years of product application.
My first 'style' was a skinhead with a razor-cut side parting. This was Neil Tuson's idea and a half-hearted attempt to establish myself in some kind of 'Mod' sub-group, somewhere between the traditional Parka-wearing Mod and  the Skinheads - I really shouldn't have listened to Neil Tuson.
This hair style provoked much comment (most of it negative), my crash helmet didn't fit me properly any more and my girlfriend dumped me. I let my hair grow slowly longer until it was over my ears and collar and quite wavy on the top. I don't know what that style would be called - probably a 'Needs a Haircut' style.
I went out with a trainee hairdresser called Kathy and she said she would cut my hair for me. This seemed like a great idea and it was the first time since my mum died that a woman was in charge of my hair style. It didn't go well - I think Kathy fancied Rod Stewart and had tried to make me in his image, so it was spiky at the top and long at the sides. I hated it, I had it cut at Eric Longworth's the next week and Kathy poured a cup of lukewarm coffee over my head when she saw what I'd done. Then she dumped me.
When I was married and moved to Warrington, Margaret became my chief hair advisor. Margaret is never quite sure how to have her hair, so her advice has been consistent, but never definitive - "you should do something different."
Combed back and tucked behind the ears
- is that a proper haircut?
As my job became more demanding and my family grew, the big challenge was finding time for a haircut. We took to using Les Cole in Whittlesey and it would be a family outing, with Max inheriting my fear of scissors to the extent that we considered cutting his hair ourselves while he was asleep.
Coles are made of sterner stuff than the barber in Lostock and I tried bigger and better bribes than an ice-lolly, so Max's tantrums were soon overcome.
Margaret thought I should have my hair like Hugh Grant and I was made to humiliate myself by asking for a Hugh Grant cut in Coles. It's the only time I've ever asked for a celebrity haircut and it will be the last. I liked it better than my Rod Stewart cut (which I hadn't asked for), but it wasn't me. When I went to work the next week, my CEO, Alan Goode, asked me what I had done with my hair. I told him my wife wanted me to look like Hugh Grant. "Eric," he said, "it looks like you've got a dead cat on your head."
When I hit my 40s and was able to get a motorcycle again, I tried a shorter cut to avoid 'helmet hair' but short hair requires product and product makes the inside of your crash helmet horrid.
Since then, I've worn my hair a bit longer with a side-parting and my barber of choice has become Jason in Whittlesey. When I retired, I resolved to grow it longer, perhaps even have a pony tail, but it's not going well. Margaret has made it her mission to nag me back to the barber and my hair is also getting on my nerves.
I do have a thick head of hair, now quite grey, but I still have no idea what I should do with it.