How many haircuts are there in a life?

Helen Shapiro, whilst 'Walking Back to Happiness', said her hair was her crowning glory. It's certainly how a man might make sense of his inner self, but crowning glory? As a child, hair was central to how I saw myself. Ginger knob or curly top were the two school nicknames by which I was known and I hated them. As I cringed, so they were used more and more. Yet my red curls, if not the hairstyle, was coveted by female relatives. I'm told we need a dose of the red hair gene from each parent, so it's likely one of my sources was great grandad and great grandma Malone, immigrants from the west of Ireland where red hair is relatively common. I'm happy with that bit of myself. Incidentally, I also hated my freckles and the attendant serious risk of sunburn. Not any more; I stay covered up, sitting in the shade, keeping up with fluids, plenty and various.
There are guys who hardly ever get shorn. Rastas and Sikhs for example, totally in tune with their culture and presumably with their inner selves. For those that do, managing the hair is an intermittent lifelong task. Maths was never a strength, but for the sake of argument, assume we live for 70 years and have 10 haircuts per year, each lasting 30 minutes including the wait. You can only go during the day and not on a Sunday, so multiply by three. That's 6 weeks out of the life. A long time. So where, who with and how do we spend that time? Do we stay loyal, or do we flit about? Who or what influences our style? How do we know it's been a success? The amount of hair on the floor perhaps? Not going too often is on my list. Do you look more like your old self or are you continuing to fool most of the people most of the time? Do you look more like someone else would like you to look, maybe the wife? They say you are only a two or three days away from getting back to normal after a dud haircut, so why worry anyway?
History tells us that attending the barber's was an important social and medical event in addition to a hygienic routine. Barbers were dentists and surgeons, famous for blood-letting as immortalised by Sweeney Todd. Thankfully, the Royal College of Surgeons took over that function in the late 19th century. Barbers retain however, an important role in STD prevention.
The golden age of barbershops began in America around the 1880s. Men popped in daily for a chat, to listen and help create public opinion, regardless of whether they wanted a shave or a haircut. Premises were sumptuous and the aromas rich. It was a club. The decline of this companionability began with the invention of the safety razor in 1904 (Gillette) when a shave at the barber's turned into a special event, much like today. D0-It-Yourself haircuts began in the 1920s, popular with my dad in the 1950s and could even still be around. Then came the fashion for long hair, pioneered by Goliath and continued by the Beatles. Finally the haircut itself came under assault by the advent of the hairstylist, stereotypically a camp artiste who uses scissors rather than clippers, and who includes a drink and repartee in with the experience.
You can trace a life through your haircuts. As a nipper, Dad decided when I needed it cut and did it in the kitchen, on a buffet surrounded by newspaper using mail-order diy clippers. No electric here, hand driven, not especially sharp, pulling hairs out by their roots and mighty sore. A verbal slap if not a backhander if I complained. I finished with a short-back-and-sides and looked like a ginger coconut.
When a paper round gave me some independence, enough eventually became enough. It was time for the barber's, beginning with Raby’s at Waterloo opposite the cinema where we went every Saturday night. It was a hut really with stained glass windows which signed his name in colour. The price turned my dad pale; probably well less than five bob in old money, but at least I didn't look like a coconut. I asked his daughter out but she was always doing her hair. Ran in the family I suppose.
Next was a hairdresser up Imperial Arcade in the town centre. You still had to queue so it was a barbers really, but posher than a hut. It was popular with college boys because one of the staff was still in school doing a Saturday job. He lived up the road from us and took his lunch in a briefcase. This choice had something to do with girls. More expensive but more couth; a proper hairdresser, value for money and romantic impact. Difficult to judge that last one, but not too powerful in my case. Must've been the pipe.
The first few years at university we used the union barber. He had a massive comb-over reminiscent of Donald Trump. When we moved out in the field you went where you could. Backstreets of Liverpool somewhere. Never comfortable surviving on a grant, I also sent off for a diy razor which I scraped across my scalp, until a bare patch appeared one day. I had to cover it and my embarrassment with an elastoplast, cruelly referred to as a colostomy by one of my flatmates.
In Cardiff I had a silly haircut with massive sideburns, a bit like JPR Williams, the Welsh rugby player. It would have been a nightmare for the barber, whoever he was.
I'd graduated to a parting by the time I worked in the centre of Manchester. I had my hair cut in the shadow of Maine Road, home of Manchester City. Two chairs in the front room of a terrace house. Antonio and Anellio’s. Italians. Always full, the queue and the conversation were heated and entirely predictable. I happened to mention once that my haircuts were getting more frequent, was he leaving my hair a little long? I left scalped and chastened. For goodness sake, City hadn't lost, it was only a haircut.
I've tried many village barbers in Huddersfield. First Crosland Moor. Convenient and never seemed to have a queue, at lunchtime anyway. The boss ran a big car and went on holiday a lot. He also cut the hair of one of my colleagues - another coconut sadly, an Indian one this time. Two in Honley. One always had a pint of lager on his sink. Whilst a fashionable man and wife act, the other had outrageous prices. My son continued with them long after I'd changed.
The same spot my wife went came next, a unisex hairdresser in Meltham, run by two gay men, the only place I've ever had to book. Good service and plenty of outrageous banter. They used to open their garden to the public in summer. It was a period in my life when I needed the professional look. Besuited, groomed, sleek, gelled, moustached. My wife hated it. I think I did too, but I didn't admit it.
Since moving to Holmfirth I've attended just two hair establishments, except for a one-off in Hebden Bridge. The first was an archetype, part of the communal male unconscious complete with barber's pole. The queue resembled the gp's waiting room back in the 1950s. Quiet patient possibly morose men, sitting in line on cushioned benches next to a low coffee table full of magazines and newspapers, knowing who's come in after you, but who is in front? It's life on a knife edge. Posh people, of course make an appointment at a hairdresser. And don't go in the school holidays, it's mayhem. It was also my first time at an all female barbers. Common enough today.
What decides you to go? Scalp itchiness, spots even, complaints from the wife, having to comb it or maybe you simply don't look yourself? Having decided and endured the queue, it's the dreaded 'What are we doing today?' The reply in hushed tones, so no one in the queue will detect that you actually care. There are certain middle-aged guys that give easily-heard detailed instructions, usually followed by a barely audible 'plonker' from the queue. The most animated it gets.
I once went early in the icy cold, wondering if they would open. I met the head honcho outside the Picturedrome where she didn't reply to my enquiry. She actually ignored me, walking straight past across the bridge. I shouted 'Oy,' which she heard. 'Yes, we're open,' she said. After the haircut, Sheila, my wife, came to pick me up and as we were leaving head honcho said, 'And my name's not Oy, it's Tracy.' We got on well after that. Bubbly, enjoyed her films and away days in Goole and Manchester. Apparently there is a massive market in Goole where all sorts of things fall off lorries. Tracy always asked that dreaded question, despite my 4-5 years of patronage. I once said it didn't matter what I asked for, it always came out the same. She slapped me. And she loved to do eyebrows. 
Of course you can't have the same girl every time. One said she thought narrow boating was boring. Another droned on about her horses, dogs and cats. Yet another gave me a lecture on paganism.
I moved on. The second Holmfirth establishment was a modern take on the 1880s American barber. Two willowy women hairdressers, a monumental polished wooden island. Four chairs. A short uncomfortable pew for the rare queue. Coffee and a loyalty card. Beer on Fridays. Must book for shaves, increasingly popular, especially for stag parties as part of their pre-wedding spruce up. I was also given a job, to act as chaperone; sadly one of the girls has an unwelcome admirer. I get asked to sit until he goes, at least two haircuts for the price of one and not quite bald. She likes eyebrows as well, and hair where it's not supposed to be, like ears.
Finally, one Saturday when we were visiting Hebden Bridge, I took advantage of a special offer, £5 advertised in chalk on a blackboard outside what looked to be a ladies' hairdresser. No queue. 'That's for me.' I said. Very pleasant ladies, no coffee. I got some instant feedback from Sheila, 'You don't look any different.' I had to admit there wasn't a lot of hair left on the floor. So this is what it boils down to: neat, tidy and incapable of arousing offence or even comment. The neutral solution.

New Mill workshop - Scarborough Jan 2014

That time of the year again.
  Rupert arrived at the hotel on time and was late for rehearsal. He’d given Alan Hicks a lift, regaling him for 2 hours on the rights and wrongs of how to pronounce breakfast and whether it was grammatically appropriate to use thankfully or fortunately.
  The baritones were asked by the tenors to move along as they had insufficient room to sit down. We complied and added a chair to our line, next to me as it happens. It remained vacant for the duration. A phantom tenor. Is there one or two about?
  The warm-ups included a trick to encourage us to sing a triplet correctly. It didn’t work for a while. We also had a left-right rhyme to coordinate with walking. I’m not sure we cracked that either, but, unlike the first ruse, it wasn’t integral to learning new music.
  For some reason the size of baths in the bedrooms came up for discussion. Apparently one singer was fortunate to have an enormous one, complete with optional water-wings and life-belt as standard.
  No theory this year, though we did get legged up in chord inversions during a bass-baritone session. Rupert shook his head and looked into the distance. 
  A new phrase gained currency as the weekend progressed. Ibbotson’s Syndrome is described as follows: Non-Langerhans cell histiocytosis associated with lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin's disease (Clinical and Experimental Dermatology v24, i5, 365-367, Sept 1999). When the title doesn’t make any sense, are you like me and lose the will? It’s why I don’t read the Guardian. I can’t do the crossword either. I think our definition of the full-blown Ibbotson’s Syndrome would go like this: predominantly male, age range 55 to 65 years, loose-limbed mania, a tendency to overdressing, volunteering to perform far too easily, delusions of singing grandeur, staying on too long, memory loss and an absolute lack of remorse including a serious and complete breakdown of any meaningful form of communication with the accompanist. The weekend clinic was well populated with a full-blown and several milder versions of the problem.

The new music is as follows:
He Ain’t Heavy. First recorded by Kelly Gordon and then The Hollies in 1969. For Rupert’s benefit, the title is an example of paraprosdokian in which the second half of the title causes the hearer to reinterpret the first half (wikipedia says so). See also The Justice Collective.
George Formby medley.
No Arms Could Ever Hold You. A hit for Chris Norman as a solo artist. He also had success as part of the band Smokie, an English Glam Rock band from Bradford.
Abide with Me. Alan’s arrangement for his dad, originally written in 1847 by Henry Francis Lyte, sung to William Henry Monk’s Eventide. Frequently part of religious and military services, films and TV programmes. Integral to the Wembley RL cup final preliminaries since 1929.

The formal entertainment included:
David Thorpe - a singalong version of New York New York. Richard Green said he’d no time for Frank Sinatra’s singing. I was a touch astonished as I quite like him myself. Something about slurring his words - it doesn’t make you a bad person.
Clive Hetherington - a gently mocking version of the Kathleen Ferrier Northumberland folk song Blow the Wind Southerly. Born in Blackburn, as you might have guessed, she was said to transcend all boundaries and snobberies of class and taste. Clive’s blow the wind suddenly, his take on pelvic gaseous effluent, was witty and well sung. The only boundary it transcended however was  the elastic in Clive’s underpants and as for snobbery, class and taste? Aren’t they everything that Clive stands for? Maybe not.
  Bill “the voice” Hopwood - following rave reviews for his solo at David Marshall’s funeral, a potboiler from the club scene. Love is All by Joe Longthorne MBE.
Alan Hicks - lyrics by Rudyard Kipling, saluting the tommies of WW1 who had to walk miles in the African sun behind their officers on camels. Boots, according to Alan is a boring marching song, and remained boring despite his best efforts to give it an animated makeover. Apparently US Navy Seal training uses the poem to simulate torture, for 18 hours at a time. Says it all really.
John Senior - a recitation for a change, Arnold the Armadillo has dodgy eyesight and gets the hots for a concertina (‘bright silver buttons’ and ‘black leather’). ‘Sex with a concertina is rarely accomplished discreetly’. ‘Picture love as a kind of concerto, poor Arnold his first was unfinished. What let everyone who was there know, was a very loud C sharp diminished’. Should have gone to specsavers.
Geoff Gill - another recitation, again flatulence the subject.
Our eponymous hero or maybe antihero - his best was Slow Train written in 1963 by Flanders and Swann. The symptoms then took hold during Mad Dogs and Englishmen (Noel Coward) and HMS Pinafore (Gilbert and Sullivan).
Steve Davis - immaculate as ever with Steal Away.
Ged Faricy - an echo of our new music with Leaning on a Lamp Post complete with ukulele accompaniment.
Graham Dawson and Eddie Sykes - Eddie recently met a Cornish lady who sorely missed our concert outside the St Ives’ lifeboat station. So did we. I can’t remember the link between St Buryen’s MVC and Perhaps Love but it’s turned into a passion. Placido Domingo, John Denver on CD every breakfast. Ultimately Alan Simmonds’ arrangement and today’s performance.
Rod and Dave - Dave’s birthday today which he shares with Dolly Parton (1946), Ged and Phil Everly (1939). Bye Bye Love, a tribute to Phil who died 3.1.14, sung with their usual aplomb.

Rupe and Alan returned home Saturday evening, inversion chords ringing in their ears. That left us with the Saturday night gala at the Highlander, a pub which I’ve frequented for 20 years, first with my father-in-law and subsequently with anyone who will go. Sadly, the young lad behind the bar automatically pours me a pint of 1664. The following comments are purely gut reaction. My pick was Andrew Morrison. He sang from his shoelaces to the hair on the back of his head. Everything went into his performances of Wild Mountain Thyme, about the hills around Balquhidder, and The Fields of Athenry, an Irish folk ballad set during the Irish Famine (1845-1850) and adopted as an anthem by Irish rugby, soccer and GAA teams (Celtic and Liverpool as well). It is also a rebel song, ‘protesting the intervention of the English crown in Irish affairs and the harsh treatment of Irish nationalists by the British’ ( Andrew sang it because he loves it, taking the opportunity to throw his head back and just let it all come out. He loved it so much he made several excursions into the back of the bar to share it with those who had just popped in for a quiet drink. My second pick was Graham Dawson. Smooth Classics, Dinner Jazz, Mel Torme.
John Rotchell and myself ate in the Highlander on Saturday evening. Two couples were dining just behind us. John eavesdropped and discovered they lived in a nearby village and had come just for the New Mill entertainment, having experienced it last year. Fans! I wonder how many we have? We finished the following day with two pieces for the hotel staff and the over 60s Sunday lunchtimers. If they could have they would have given us a standing ovation.

David Marshall - Bass: New Mill Male Voice Choir

first published winter 2006 as part of the choir magazine's regular singer profile feature
Born 21.7.1938
David tells me he sits on the second row of the basses, next to John Rotchell and Clive Hetherington. Clearly a row of literary giants.
His early influences were as you’d expect – parents, relatives, school masters, church and youth club. In and amongst there was cycling, tennis, table tennis, golf, running, model making and jazz. Of these, golf, the church and singing remain and uniquely, I imagine, he is still in touch with a particularly influential school master. After school it was a higher education in science – an external London University degree in maths, physics and chemistry. Then the world of work. Over 2 years with Thomas De La Rue banknote, stamp and security printers before moving to Allied Colloids where he’s been into dyestuffs, plastics, printing inks, paints, water treatment, paper manufacture, agriculture, superabsorbent polymers, oil industries. Finally, he worked in new ventures – 35 years in total.
In 1963 he married Ann. Three boys came along – Richard (graphic designer), Ian (golf professional) and Adam. Adam died of leukaemia aged 5. Now it’s grandparenting and DIY, golf, politics and holidays, committee choir work, gardening and walking. He’s clear about their order.
He loves making music when voices of different registers, if controlled properly, make great sounds. He enjoys choir camaraderie and describes his vision of the choir as carrying on regardless.

Can I add a couple of things? First, the dry way he takes the mickey out of us when we ask daft questions about why, where, who and what we have to do to get to a concert on time. Second, he’s made the Bui Doi solo his. Who needs Willard?
Dave died 31.12.2013
During the choir weekend away, January 2014, Steve Davis paid a tribute. A stalwart and very important to the basses as a mentor to new members. He sat with them and helped them through that tricky first month or so. Steve was fortunate to stand next to him in concert. David was spot on, not always the case for some of the other, larger basses that have sung with the choir in the past. He will be missed.

A funeral and a fire engine

Bob and Avril Carrick gave us a lift in their large VW to the funeral of a fellow New Mill Male Voice chorister, David Marshall. The service was in Mirfield and we set off from Compo’s cafe, Greenfield Road, Holmfirth at 10.40am. We went up Greenfield Road like an F1 racer. It was quiet through Meltham, only for the F1 to reappear toward Netherton. Then Lockwood, Town, St John’s Road, past Hopkinson’s where Bob worked, Birkby, Norman Park, Fartown, Asda, Bradley, finally emerging on Leeds Road at Cooper Bridge. Several intermittent bursts of the F1 whenever there was two cars space in front of us and we arrived at 11.25am. Jackie Stewart in a previous life.
  The service, the son’s eulogy and the singing were great.
  Many thanks to the family for the wake at Dewsbury GC. Thanks also to John and Delia Rotchell who donated a boxful of toys for my grandson, who strangely enough, is called Jenson. Maddy, David Marshall’s granddaughter, wandered over, ‘What’s in the box?’, ‘Toys,’ I replied, ‘a workbench with hammer, a tractor, two Thomas the Tanks and a Fire Engine. You’ll be too old for them.’ ‘Yes I’m eight.’
  The return journey was more direct because I was navigating. So there were fewer instances of me being pinned to the back of my seat. ‘Do you hear the siren? Where is it?’ asked Bob. We tried to listen carefully, prevented by Avril who does sometimes find it hard to press her mute button. No, we can’t hear anything. ‘There it goes again. Keep looking.’ Now Bob and Avril are canny Scots persons who go into a dizzy fit if the car makes a noise outside their normal limits of a roar and a scream. ‘It’s the car,’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘every time you take a left.’ ‘No, there is goes again, on the straight.’ It’s every time he thinks he’s Jackie Stewart, I thought.
  ‘What’s in the box, David?’ ‘A workbench with hammer, a tractor, two Thomas the Tanks and er, er . . . a Fire Engine.'