On the 'day of rest', Grandad took to wielding a comb, scissors and clippers instead of his billhook, axe and adze. Sunday mornings were for tidying the heads of farmers, dairymen, thatchers and labourers who came in dribs and drabs to a ramshackle shed, propped up by an aged apple tree and smothered in 'plums and custard' honeysuckle.
I'd sit on a broken bale of hay with one arm around the neck of a chocolate mongrel called Sally, whilst the clientele sat as squarely as was possible on a lop-sided kitchen chair.
In the summertime the men would be mere silhouettes against the bright morning, framed in the gaping doorway. Everything drifted; the smoke from hand-rolled cigarettes and pipes, the hair and the conversation. All fell softly and steadily.
In winter the door remained firmly shut to the elements. Grandad snipped away under the flickering illumination of a weak bulb and a woodchip burning stove offered a little warmth when the wind was in the right quarter.
When things became quiet, I contented myself by driving old nails into a log or maybe Grandad would seize the moment to sharpen hooks or shears. As showers of sparks rained down from his grindstone I'd be poised with my magnet, knowing I could make the filings dance and stand on end when the job was done.
No permanent damage done to my curly locks
Out of all the regulars I had my favourites; Bill Burrows, for instance. There was a big man with a beer-barrel body who, after succumbing to Grandad's scissors, would immediately try his great brown trilby on for size. After the usual, "That's a better fit, Jim'' he'd take out his snuff box. Where most men would merely take a pinch, Bill Burrows tipped a mole-hill of powder on to the back of his thick wrist and sniffed the entire lot up in one go. A minute or so later he'd sneeze into his red and white spotted handkerchief with the force of a hurricane. A broad smile followed, and with an expression of relief on his shining, red face, he'd sit astride his ancient creaking bicycle and wobble homeward.
Old Charlie Page, was a hard working farmer, but his overgrown white moustache and frail, steel-rimmed spectacles somehow made him seem more suited to the part of a telegraph operator in the wild west.
Echoes of Alf Churcher's squeaky laugh, and the grace of Fred Gray's laconic smile. These characters, all trussed up with sturdy braces and leather belts strong enough to hold a shire-horse, coloured my early years with their wonderful yarns.
What would they have made of today's barbers? Well perhaps an old farmer of the Carpenter family summed it up on the day when Charlie Randall brought his long haired, teenage son along for a trim. While Grandad stood looking bemused, having never been confronted with such a mop before, old man Carpenter removed his long dead and crusty pipe from between his lips, adjusted his battered hat and suggested quietly, "Bess thing t' do there Jim, is sling 'alf a gallon o' parfeen on, an' set light to it ."
© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges