|CITIZENS! Don't be a mug. Ask your barber for a "Young Generalissimo" - it's the haircut that's going places!|
It was midway through my usual short-back-and-sides last Friday that Slightly Racist Derek the barber let slip that he had voted UKIP in the recent European elections.
"Good for you," I said, because I am a firm believer in two things. The first of these is the democratic right for anybody to vote for whichever party they like, no matter how much I disagree with their views. And the second of these is never to upset a large man holding a pair of incredibly sharp scissors to your head.
It transpired that mine and Derek's political views diverged several decades ago, I was cowed enough to sit and listen while he put the world to rights. After all, it made a change from the usual fishing talk, and I had run out of interesting things to say on that front several visits ago. Barbershop banter, it turns out, is not my thing.
I've never been one to spend a fortune on a haircut. I had a brief flirtation with a gents' hair salon in the late 80s, when jackets were white and if you didn't have a cut and blow dry you were nothing. But apart from that fashion debacle, I've never seen the reason why a man needs to spend more than a tenner to get himself scalped.
Back in the day, I went to a chap called Maurice the Mangler, who plied his trade in what can only be described as a corridor in Henley-on-Thames. For your 95p you got what you were given, and no arguments. Conversation was strictly limited to the fortunes of Reading Football Club and "Going anywhere for your holidays, sir?" which is exactly how it should be.
Down the years, I have always sought out any town's cheap clip joint, for if it's a military-style short-back-and-sides you're after, why pay more? And that's why I found this particular shop.
Our town went over the barber shop event horizon a long time ago. We have more barber shops than we know what to do with, and the trade is – oh-ho! – cut-throat. Derek's good for a nearby coffee shop, so everybody's a winner.
"I'll tell you why I voted UKIP," he said carving away at my barnet. "All those bloody Ukrainians."
"Don't you mean Romanians?"
"Yeah, them as well. You go up central London, an' they're all sleepin' rough in Hyde Park."
"Are they really?"
"All sleepin' rough in Hyde Park, nicking our jobs. Who's going to deal with that, eh?"
As the razor came out to shave the back of my neck, I agreed with every damn word that he said, instead of drawing his attention to a) my degree in European, US and Asia-Pacific politics, and b) the facts. But the narrative's all about the immigrants these days, and the here-and-now was an angry man with a large blade in his hand. Remembering my Henry IV and the words of Falstaff therein on discretion and valour, political opinion was for another time.
"They biting up the lake?"
"They biting up the lake?"
I tipped him two quid, but left with slightly racist hair.