55 minus 50: Small talk at sword point

Posted: 28 June 2019 in 55 minus, personal
Tags: , ,

Every so often, I’ll hear a gag at a comedy evening and it’ll strike home for all sorts of reasons; often, just because it’s clever and funny.

I like smart and funny material delivered by funny and smart people. It’s therefore not a coincidence that my favourite kind of stand-up is that which makes me laugh and think… at the same time.

I could easily spend an entire entry writing about a half a dozen of my favourites… so I guess you can now expect that during this run, as well. (Honestly amuses me that every entry so far has had me scribbling notes on something else about which to write.)

But I was talking about specific gags and why they resonate with me. Sometimes it’s something that strikes at the heart of something that I care greatly about… occasionally, it’s just a throwaway line that reveals great truth.

This one, delivered by a comedian named Chris Stokes was the latter. Self-deprecatingly commenting about how socially awkward he is, he went on to explain that’s why he doesn’t like going for a haircut:

“let’s face it, it’s just small talk at sword point.”

It’s a nice gag, but it particularly hit home for me because my family was/is in hairdressing.

A grandparent, a father, an uncle, and two brothers… all worked in hairdressing,

As a result, I grew up surrounded by the culture of hairdressing: the jargon, the personalities, the superstitions, and the war stories. I learned the ‘secrets of the job’ at the same time I was starting school; some of them have even stuck with me.

And I heard about the type of clients that every salon has;:the client who brings in a photo and asks for that haircut, despite having neither the head shape nor hair type on which that haircut would look nice; the client who always complained that the junior never shampooed hard enough so would start washing her own hair…

Also, as a result, I never grew up with a fear of hairdressing, nor of having my hair cut. To me, and my brothers, it was just something that dad – and others – did; they cut hair. People cut hair, and people had their hair cut. Oh, everyone went to the hairdressers on a regular basis to have a haircut.

It was quite a shock, I remember, to discover that some people were scared of getting their hair cut, were genuinely worried every time they went into a hairdressers’.

And as I grew up, even I did a stint, working Saturdays and holidays; shampooing, sweeping up, ‘handing up’ perm curlers and the rest… for my dad and his staff in his salon; until, at 15, I – like many kids working for their parents – wanted to get a Saturday and evening job that wasn’t dependent on me being related to the boss.

I have many natural abilities and learned skills, but having grown up in hairdressing, and being surrounded by it, one thing I knew pretty early on is that it wasn’t for me.

For a start, it’s a damn hard job; I always joked that I took the easy way out by becoming an accountant, but it’s only half a joke.

And yes, there’s also something best illustrated by those two pics, over there, to the right.

Look, if someone had done that to you, you wouldn’t that keen on making it your career either. (Hey, I was a child in the 1970s; I didn’t get to express an opinion on my parents’ choice of haircuts for me in those days.)

And as for the social skills hairdressers possess, making each client feel as if they’re the only person in the world that matters right then… and doing that a dozen or more times a day? No, definitely not something that appealed to me.

But it’s the the small talk element that to this day staggers me. I am genuinely in awe of the ability and skills of a good hairdresser to have the same conversation possibly dozens of times a day, every day, and not show their boredom at the same time as making your client feel good about themselves. And – if it’s a regular client – hearing the same stories, the same personal complaints about the vicissitus of life, from the same client… every bloody time.

I genuinely don’t know how they do it; impressed the hell out of me when I was younger and it still does.

When I moved down to Richmond, it took me a while to find a hairdresser who could do three things:

a) give me a decent haircut
b) make me enjoy the experience
c) be someone I liked, an underrated quality in a hairdresser

Fortunately I found someone; was with her for a few years, and after she left on maternity leave, she recommended a colleague to take over. Knowing well the horror stories from people when a hairdresser they trust has handed over to someone they don’t… it’s a genuine delight to say that my current hairdresser – Taylor – is just as lovely, just as talented and just as able to make even me look good. I’m so pleased with her – and her work, and skill, that despite no longer living in the Richmond area, I stll go back to her, and the salon in which she works, when I get a haircut.

As I did this morning.

Slightly closer cropped than usual, but I like it…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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