Friday, February 18, 2005

Maurice the Mangler

Maurice the Mangler

As chosen by Zoe of My Boyfriend is a Twat, who once had a father-in-law called Maurice, proving for once and for all that nutters will always find nutters

How to get a haircut - a guide for teenagers:

- Sit on a kitchen chair with an old towel wrapped round your neck.
- Allow parent to put a large bowl on your head, and then cut off any hair that sticks out.

Voila! Instant retard!

I was under the impression that this approach would make me a fashion leader amongst my peers After all, I could ask Mum for any style I wanted, as long as it was No.1 bowl. It didn't.

"Hey! Scary! Tell us who cuts your hair - we can go round and beat up their guide dog."

After much badgering (with genuine badgers, country sports fans!) and a spectacular case of the sulks, Mum admitted defeat, unlocked the safe and sent us to a proper barber shop.

All the hard, street and "it" kids in my class at school went to a decent hairdresser to get their hair cut, and our class was filled with floppy fringes and smart haircuts epitomising the end of the seventies and the brash, new age that the 1980s would bring. My mother, on the other hand, sent us to Maurice the Mangler in Henley.

Maurice ran his business from what appeared to be a corridor on Bell Street, just opposite WH Smiths. There were two barber's chairs in the establishment, but I never saw another barber working there, ever, leading to local rumours of dirty work with a pair of clippers. Old men sat in his waiting area, waiting to die. Presumably Maurice had first dibs on any pie-filling shenanigans that followed.

"Aw mum, why do we have to go to the Mangler's?"

"Because he's cheap."

He hated kids. With a passion. He would sooner slaughter us and throw our twitching corpses into the Thames than cut our hair, but his threadbare outfit betrayed the fact that he needed the money. You sat there, daring not to move nor say a word, and then it was your turn. You had no choice. Sort back'n'sides with a frenzy that suggested a genetic link with Jack the Ripper, and turfed out into the street. And if you were lucky, there would be hardly any blood as a result of your scalping.


Less than a quid, and by God, you looked it. You could tell a fellow Maurice the Mangler victim a mile away, a lop-sided fringe and barely-healed nicks on the ear showing them up for the cheapskates that they were. Just yards up the road, a fiver would get you a cut-and-blow dry from a young lady with a bumpy chest, and if you were really lucky, a nice cup of tea into the bargain.

I once peered through the window, and my mate Ernie was there getting the skinning of his life, being waited on by at least three young ladies. At school the next day he announced that "you could see right up the sleeve-holes in her t-shirt. She had a bra an' everything." Good heavens.

If you were really lucky, you might get taken to the Wimpy (where I was once banned for asking the waitress for "A sachet of tomato ketchup and six straws please") for a proper almost posh knife and fork burger meal, or even across the road to the Regal Cinema, where they had a genuinely mad uniformed commissionaire who patrolled the aisles, threatening unruly kids like a man thrown out of the traffic wardens on health grounds.

I kept going back - voluntarily - well into my twenties, mainly because the only other barber shop I knew cost five times as much and was ten times worse. You knew where you stood with Maurice, even if it was just half an inch from certain death. I don't even know if he's still alive these days - he was in his fifties back then - let alone still trading. A pilgrimage is in order. If he is still there, it will go some way to explaining local MP Boris Johnson's devastating good looks.

Visiting his corridor of doom was an education, to say the least. As a boy, I learned a word from Maurice. This was a word plastered all over the mirrors in his shop and one day, one day soon, it's meaning would become very clear to me. Every couple of minutes while you sat under his icy cold glare, there'd come a tap at the shop's side window (the corridor neighboured a squalid alleyway frequented by dodgy looking ne'er-do-wells, shoe-shines and Fagin types). Maurice would stop what he was doing, open the window, and in exchange for a few coins, he would pass a small package out of the window.

The word, plastered in four-inch high letters all over his shop was "Durex" and I was experiencing, at first hand, the phenomenon of "Something for the Weekend".

In my innocence/stupidity, I thought it was some kind of hair gel, and wasn't entirely in on the joke at school.

Looking back now, I'm pretty certain that the comment "And then he put durex on my head" probably marked my card for several years to come.

No comments: