More speed, less fuss. What more could you ask for from a barber, asks Jason Goodwin.
Some men like to have their hair cut regularly, but the rest of us just let it grow until, all of a sudden, it feels like a nuisance. When that moment comes, I blunder into town looking for Shannon, who works on the first floor over a shop, in a place called something witty and forgettable like A Cut Above, A Step Ahead or Upper Cuts.
Shannon, named after the river rather than the airport, doesn’t mess about with hair-washing. She takes about 10 minutes and charges £10.
When the mood caught me unawares in Edinburgh recently, I found my way to The Turkish Barber on Easter Road and spent a happy few minutes chatting to the barber who cuts the consul’s hair, on occasion.
In the event, it was his Polish colleague who agreed to cut mine. Men in T-shirts with stubble and big eyebrows lounged about in the queue. I asked her where she had learned the hairdressing art. ‘Not hairdressing. I am barber only,’ she corrected me, sternly. ‘I study barbering in Wroclaw.’
It’s a funny business, hairdressing. Shannon at Upper Cuts (or A Step Ahead) tells me that men are pernickety and that women have lovely hair to work with, but the Polish lady barber disagreed.
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‘A few days later, I ran into a friend of mine in Istanbul. “What happened?” Ilhan roared, squeezing my arm and gesturing at my head with his free hand’
She prefers cutting men’s hair because, she said, men like it simple. They don’t fuss or talk too much. The women, she said, always want to discuss health issues and she wasn’t interested. ‘Womens! Two hours, always talk troubles, pains, the family. I am not psychologist.’
I kept my peace. She was brisk and used clippers. I couldn’t see what she’d actually done until I put my glasses on and then I didn’t want to let the side down by fussing or talking.
Afterwards, Kate clapped her hand to her mouth and suggested I have a little more taken off the top, but I didn’t want to make a fuss. ‘The difference between a bad haircut and a good one,’ I reminded her, ‘is a week.’
Perhaps that should be two weeks. A few days later, I ran into a friend of mine in Istanbul. ‘What happened?’ Ilhan roared, squeezing my arm and gesturing at my head with his free hand. ‘You’ve had a Kurdish haircut!’
There is, in short, a hair code, but it isn’t always easy to read. In the racy 1980s, certain kinds of thick moustache were sported by gay men such as Freddie Mercury. President Erdogan wears one neatly trimmed, as a mark of manly piety. He has made it something of a cult. Only three of his 27-member cabinet have not grown identical moustaches yet (one is a woman).
Beards are coded and male, although Jusepe de Ribera’s magnificent 1631 portrait of a suckling mother, Magdalena Ventura with Her Husband and Son, shows her with an enigmatic breast and full black beard. Once, playing Beaver, I scooped 100 points for a goateed woman selling vegetables in a Pyrenean market.
There are all sorts of subtle signs and styles. Pious Muslims wear one sort, another signifies a hipster mixologist, a third seamen or European royalty.
In Istanbul, where a great deal of attention is given to whether women should cover their hair or not, a lot of younger women wear a hijab that projects backwards, Nefertiti style, and helps to accentuate a beautiful profile.
My Kurdish haircut, by contrast, doesn’t merit a second glance. As Bernard Cribbins once sang:
Get your hair cut, get your hair cut!
To be absolutely blunt
With your hair cut like a coconut
You look like your head’s on — back to front.
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