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What did you do in the war Grandad?


Ah my boy we were veterans of the war of the generations, fought on many fronts. For example :


On my fourteenth birthday I walked into Hughie’s barbers between the bookies and the cake shop and ordered a Boston. Hughie looked at me as if I was mad. “What’s your dad say?”. “He says it’s OK” I lied. “He said it’s my money so I can do what I like”. The only truth in this was that it was my money earned from a Saturday job pushing a two wheeled cart around the village delivering groceries to old ladies who couldn’t carry them home. No more institutional short back and sides. I entered Hughie’s as a child and left as a youth.

Of course I soon graduated from Hughie’s despite his racy use of the cut-throat to get that crisp even finish across the back of the neck ; despite the offered pomane. If you paid men’s rates, you got a man’s service. But there was something lacking. I tried Brian’s down the bottom end of Chain Street. My sister knew him and felt sorry enough for him to push me in his direction. Even as a young customer my buying power gave me a sense of patronage.

It took me two or three visits to realise that Brian was a rubbish hairdresser. Young he might have been, good for a natter, treated you like an equal, but he was not even in Hughie’s class. Even in my naivety it became obvious that Brian’s heart was not in barbering. It was his father’s shop but really he should have been clouting nails in a clog shop or skewering corpses at the abattoir.

Thanks to the ever-precocious Don Atherton I was introduced to Dion’s Salon in Bosley; the one above Ray’s fish and game emporium. Dion was a right teasy-weasy, a far cry from Hughie’s brutally utilitarian approach to barbering, and Brian’s amateurish and cack-handed assault on fashion. Dion was a “hairdresser”. His own graying mane was well coiffured, and he had a clipped spivvish moustache which no doubt said “irresistible” in his own mind. We sat there reading racy men’s mags, listening in on the sort of conversation never heard at Hughie’s or Brian’s, watched by a row of photos of well-tonsured clones of Bobby Vee and Paul Anka. We had no idea we were being conditioned into Italian American culture, despite our growing wardrobe of three buttoned high collared box jackets, and matching tight slacks with knife edge creases. With our winkle pickers and button down collars we had fought our way from the austere world of our fathers. We were mods before there were mods.

We were there the Monday after Leon’s world fell apart. The city’s annual hairdressing federation ball had been held on the Saturday, just across the road at the King’s Hall. A former Federation President, Leon took such occasions very seriously. There was the awards ceremony, there was the sit-down three-course dinner, and there was the star turn. Unfortunately for Leon the star turn turned out to be a band we had just heard of. Between being booked and appearing they had a minor chart hit, which drew large numbers of over-excited young people to the Hall just to catch a glimpse. “A bloody disgrace” said Leon “hair over their collars. Bet their neck’s not seen soap since they were ten. And the bloody noise. Couldn’t hear yourself complain. Bloody racket”. And with that he dismissed the Beatles but his misgivings were prescient as our generation gave up going to the hairdressers in favour of long hair and do-it-yourself trims, and the lamps went out in barbers’ shops all over Europe.

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