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I was in a part of town that I hadn’t been to for sometime, must have been 10 plus years.  Where there used to be pubs and chip shops you now found bistros and coffee shops.  New offices had been built and new frontages suggested significant expense and investment, plus the whole place looked alot cleaner and upmarket. Usually this means real estate prices push out the old traders and stores – not a place you’d find a traditional old barber shop, but I saw one. Somewhat worse for wear and out of place with its neighbours.

I don’t know why I did it. Some compulsion that I can’t explain, completely irrational and unnecessary and I walked past Georges twice before I went in. No one there, just the old guy sat on a chair reading a newspaper. I passed my hand over the back of my head.  A week old grade three that felt fine, but the voices in my head said it was enough to cut and that was it. I turned and I walked in.

George raised his head and stood up in a smooth movement, getting ready for action.  He pointed out the coat hooks and I hung my jacket then took a seat in the chair.  A long counter in front of me, broken up by two low sinks and a couple of tall mirrors behind them.  Hair brushes, combs, guards, creams and a selection of scissors graced the bench. Shelves with razors, deodorant and toiletries filled the wall to the left and right of the mirrors. Old faded photos, some of hairstyles, some of George and family completed the wall.

A blue cape was thrown over me, a tissue tucked into my collar and the cape fastened tight. Strangely he then talc dusted my neck, maybe marking out his work area, who knows? I instantly felt comfortable that this guy was a seasoned pro and this felt good. 

“What will it be?” he asked, pleasantly with slight accent. “Number two, around the ears and back. Not too high on the sides, please”.  With his finger he drew a line from my temple along to the top of my ear and I agreed with the height.

From the bench he unhooked  the clippers, Wahl I think, brushed the blades and found a two guard.  With one hand easing my head to a slight angle to the left he switched them on and eased the blade up my right sideburn moving an inch and a half up my temple. 

As the movement took the clippers away I could see a clear difference. The number 3 had only been a week ago but there was a visible lightness from the first pass. Gently bending down my ear he continued, with the sound of hair being sheared getting slightly louder as more was met and removed.

Moving round to the back the clippers touching the base of my neck sent a shiver through me that grew as they moved up the back of my head. I started to wonder if this was a two or a one, but too late now! Whichever it was every movement made me shiver in a way a clipper cut had never done before. Having been originally apprehensive about coming in I now knew that this was right.  George continued across the back and around to the left side, first pass done.

He turned back to the bench and changed the guard. It was a two, now it’s a one. Starting on the right side again he ran the clippers over his previous work, running to about two thirds the height of cut, developing the gradual fade.  The clippers growled away, pass after pass, and dark hairs gave way to even lighter skin tones coming through.

Finishing with the number one the guard was removed and with a bare blade he repeated the process again. Running through the sideburn and up the last third all the way around. Not something I had asked for or expected but started to enjoy.  This guy had real years of experience which he showed in his handling of his tools.  I may have been getting a closer crop than was expected but the fading blended flawlessly and looked great.  With the assistance of a comb he worked on finishing the fade so I had a true 2-1-0 that looked perfect.  With a steady hand he carefully clippered the line around my ear, across the back and on the other side to reduce the hairline to stubble or less.  A few more deliberated movements at the nape of my neck gave me a feeling that this was skin close.

George then ran some hot water and part filled a cup. Taking a small shaving brush he traced a line from one side of my head to the other, wetting along the hairline, ready for a razor.  His touch and control was amazing. Scraping the razor to further enhance the fade line, could this get any closer?

Rubbing some cream into his hands he mussed up the hair on top.  By request this wasn’t cut, so I would have something to style, and he helped it into a back combed style loosley parted.

After another talc dusting the cape was loosened to reveal my shirt collar. He picked up a mirror and showed me the back. “Number two, as you asked sir. If you like I can take it shorter”  I looked at the mirror and saw an expertly cut short, back and sides, beautifully faded with perfect grading.  I thought for a second. Did he say shorter? I hadn’t expected what I’d been given and certainly wasn’t ready to test this guys work further – well not today!  The offer though is tempting and one I’ll revisit in the coming months.

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