“They even set light to your ears,” said Karl, a friend of mine with a rather natty flat top haircut.
Actually those aren’t the specific words Karl used to describe his recent experience with the barbers, but that was the implication. He was describing how the newly opened Turkish barbers in the town centre provided an amazing service with genuine attention to detail, including the bit where they run a flaming cotton bud around your lugholes to burn away those unfortunate strands of middle aged fuzz.
I’d spent the morning driving around the M25 in preparation for working on a new project for a client next week and, because the M25 had been closed in the morning, I’d gone the long way around and come back the short way. While I was having my passport verified to start the new contract I’d been reminded that I’d have a photo taken on Monday morning so I made up my mind not to end up with a terrible photo as on so many previous occasions. A trip to the barbers was clearly needed.
Back in the summer I’d been complaining that my local barber was really beginning to grate on me with his inevitable wanderings into racism within two minutes of me sitting down. Still, you don’t get into a heated debate with an elderly man who is standing behind you with a choice of sharp instruments at his disposal. So, asking around for a substitute to my racist barber I received a few suggestions, including one or two people who recommended alternative racist barbers. It was at that point that that Karl told me about the new barber with the attention to detail and the flaming cotton bud for your ears and all that.
During the second part of my Friday morning circumnavigation of London I decided to head straight for the new Turkish barber with the intention of being all groomed and splendid when I arrived at my Monday morning photo shoot. During the trip back along the M25 the radio continued to describe the migrations into Europe and I wondered at my own personal experience of the times we are all living through. Will we look back on the mid teenies and see it in similar ways to those of people who lived through the thirties? Did the people in the thirties understand the momentous time they were living through? After all, the parallels are striking… and scary.
Both the thirties and now include economic hardship, though people try not to describe our times as a depression. Yet we are barely half way through the timespan of the pre-war depression and things may yet get harder according to global indicators such as cooling emerging markets, a fragile recovery in the UK economy, instability in the Euro zone, too much domestic debt; you get the picture. Add other issues such as climate change continuing to feed instability, such as that in the Middle East causing further upheaval, and the gravity of the situation doesn’t seem much different to the thirties. For years people have been talking of future conflicts over food or water shortages as parts of the world become uninhabitable. Only now is the idea becoming widespread that the civil war in Syria was preceded by four years of drought, causing an estimated 1.5m people to migrate to Syrian cities from farms that had become untenable. The wave of Arab Spring uprisings were the result of many influences but those influences could add up to something of historic proportions.
I’m sure every one of us, perhaps apart from the most cold hearted in our population, have wondered about how we would have fared in stories of the oppression in thirties Germany, helping people escape persecution, stories of neighbours in the same street as Anne Frank doing what they could or just turning a blind eye. How many of us have wondered if we could have stood up to cruel orders if we found ourselves conscripted into the death camps? Will the times we are living through become the test by which our generation will be measured, are we even aware that such a measurement is taking place?
It turns out that there are at least two Turkish barbers in the town centre and I’ve now tried them both. Granted barbers from Turkey are not necessarily going to be refugees but with the recent changes there, such as the roll back of the Turkish secular constitution, I’m not sure I’d want to live there and I even considered moving to Turkey ten years ago. Besides, I felt it inappropriate to ask if they were from Turkey or just grooming in the Turkish style. The difference between the local Turkish barbers and the local racist barber is quite something. Visiting the bigot barber is a matter of a quick visit. There’s only the one barber, he cuts your hair adequately and sends you away a few minutes later but it’s nothing special. There’s no sink involved, only one clipper and certainly no setting fire to your ears. The Turkish barbers, however, both of them in fact, do the whole thing. Before wrapping you in the cape thing they place a paper collar around your neck such as I’ve never seen in an English barber in 50 years. They use a bewildering array of clippers and shavers, constantly swapping from one to another. Their attention to detail is unlike anything I’ve seen, carefully snipping out tiny little hairs and making fine adjustments with sharp instruments of inexplicable design. I’m sure barbers of my Father’s generation would have experienced this level of service but somewhere along the way we’ve cut and cut to keep things cheap and cheerful. Okay so the Turkish barber is more expensive but no more than a cup of coffee extra, yet when I previously asked the racist if he could tidy my beard he turned me down.
These people coming over here and taking our jobs! Well these people, at least, seem to be doing a better job even if I can smell burnt hair on the walk back to the car.