Taking a strand for the brotherhood
I wouldn't recognise a shining cuckoo if it warbled Bohemian Rhapsody, but the ducks are going nuts canoodling in the middle of the road so it must be spring.
"Ne'er a clout 'til May is out," as my Irish mum used to say. I put my 'clouts', or warm clothes, in the bottom drawer this week, fully expecting to drag them out in a blink. The globe is warming, and Jack Frost might be mulling a spiteful kick.
That other rite of spring, the haircut, proved just as risky.
The line of people waiting at the barbers – women – was an omen. It had been quite a trek to find this traditional snip-shop, this gloomy man cave of grooming, because such bastions are on their knees.
I'd shunned a string of poser-palaces – hipster hells of preening bikies, pale-ale nerds and pomading teens, fussed over by nancy-boys and girls in braces, tats and black t-shirts.
My fortitude was rewarded – a traditional barbers with giant chairs, an old manual till and a $10 pensioner special. Black combs soak in pee-coloured antiseptic, meaty electric clippers hang from brass hooks, and an old ad for Brylcreem nestles betwixt yellowing mirrors.
Hairstyles are expressed here in numbers, denoting the severity of the buzzcut. Clip-maestros such as Stoke's renowned Snippy Ritchie would be proud.
He was taken from us too soon, and the industry has since turned upside down. Hairy men are behaving like women, and, I was about to discover, hairy women are behaving like men.
Yes, my 'found' premises may be old-school but the barber is a young totty, her client is middle-aged, as are the three other dames in the waiting seats.
Our deepest caves have been usurped.
Compounding my unease, the lady in the chair is being finessed with scissors. Oh crap, scissors take time. If these other three are all in for the girlie treatment, I'll not be out of here before sundown, when a chap isn't safe walking the mean streets smelling of lotions.
A better survey of the clientele reveals one holding a pair of walking sticks, beside the seat obviously vacated by the woman in the big chair. The other two women also seem to be a pairing of some description.
Support person, perhaps? I can relate to that. A haircut is traumatic.
"I don't know why people slag off gays," says the woman beside me. "I've got a friend who's gay and he's great."
The other women nod.
Her companion concurs: "They're really handy for telling you when something doesn't look good on you."
"You're right," says the first. "My friend says, 'That top suits you', and he's always right. I reckon he could do my make-up. I'm not joking – he could do my make-up."
The others laugh.
I don't like diving into a stereotyping pool, but this 'straight' might have warned her off a cliched black hoodie with that nose-ring and those cheek studs.
The client is massaged with mousse and dried off. After a glance in the back-view mirror, she's happy. Her companion skips up with the walking sticks.
So she is a carer, and with any luck, the pair beside me are the same dynamic, meaning only one is here for a cut, meaning my wait will be shorter.
'Hoodie' is sound of limb, and occupying the chair in a flash.
"I hate hair," she says. "Take it all off. Number 1. Leave me with fluff."
Barberette snaps the 'safety' off her clippers.
"I normally shave myself," says Hoodie. "It's been four months and this is driving me mental."
I'm transfixed. How often do you see a full head of hair scythed, cascading to the floor in sheaves? Especially a woman's.
This is one gutsy chick. Or possibly deranged. The massacre is over in seconds.
"That's so much better," cries Hoodie, rubbing her stubble. She plonks her money down and cloaks her dome to depart with her companion.
Deranged or not, I admire her blokey attitude. Hair is a pain. So much better to chop it back to 'no-fuss', rather than waste time and money on grooming and products and cossetting.
Empathy aside, Hoodie also plonked down a gauntlet with her dosh. I have to make a stand for the brotherhood.
"Make mine a Number Zero," I bark for her benefit, strutting to the throne. "Scrape my scalp until you draw blood."
Barberette is also impressed.
"And while we're at it, feather my 'brows – I've got a chainsaw in the truck if you need it. Hack that gorse, and throw in a fistful of tartrazine."
The lass nods submissively. I go for the jugular.
"Oh, and switch your laser to 'Turbo' for my rosacea. I can tolerate the pain."
Victory is mine. Hallowed ground recaptured. The barbarette hangs her head, struggling to speak.
"Spit it out, Girlie. Come on, I've got a herd of stroppy heifers to crutch." I've no idea what either of those things are, but I'm on a roll.
"Um, would you like your ears done too," Barbarette whispers, indicating the weeds sprouting from my lobes.
Cripes, they look like tentacles. "Yeah," I choke, "that'd be great, thanks."
"Done – you should be able to hear the shining cuckoos now. Oh, and … ah … the nostrils?"
I lower my own voice to a mumble. "Sure."
"Ooops, a few wilding pines up there on the bridge too..."
My remaining skerrick of bravado evaporates. "Please. Yes please."
"Sorry about the 'Girlie' crack," I add. She smiles patronisingly.
I need a support person.