When I lived in Dubai I had a regular barber shop in Al Safa, behind the Villa Rotana, that I used for all of nine years.
Being a western expat, going into a Pakistani-run barber shop for the first time was a terrifying prospect. I knew no Urdu, they had little English, and the place was full of regulars who looked long and hard indeed at this grey-haired and balding gora (white man) who had entered their mysterious realm.
There were strange-shaped scissors soaking in containers filled with blue lotions, dyes for beards, open razors — even two pots of hot wax bubbling away in the far corner of the counter to remove things like nostril or ear hair.
On the cheap low-definition flat-screen televisions were Bollywood films or Urdu soap operas, musicals or gameshows. Occasionally there was a cricket game.
I remember as a child being brought to Tommy Canavan’s barber shop where he would place a plank across the arms of the big chair so as he didn’t have to bend for the short back and sides. It was a quick buzz and a clip and you were done, but it seemed like such an adventure before you were old enough to decide that long hair was a way to go
I fell in love with the place.
There were two barbers named Mohammed, and some three others whose names escape me now, but with each month and regular visit — no one else cut my hair over a nine-year period — we shared laughs and smiles.
There were always warm welcome, friendly smiles. The other regulars there got to know me too. I think that I must have been on the same hair-cutting schedule as many other customers. It became a regular ritual.
I was thinking about that barber shop the other day as I sat in a seat for trim. The clippings are far greyer now and sadly, it takes a lot less time to cut. There is less to come off the top now even if the sides are still holding on.
When I lived in Canada, I had one young barber who worked for his father, an immigrant from Italy who leased the same little shop in a mall for decades. Young Tony was the fastest scissors hand I’ve ever seen, able to do the job in five minutes or less.
Tony the Elder couldn’t wait to retire, and Young Tony couldn’t wait to take over the shop either and do things his way. When Tony the Elder finally did retire, Young Tony ran the shop into the ground. He may have been a quick barber, he wasn’t cut out for the business end of things.
I remember as a child being brought to Tommy Canavan’s barber shop where he would place a plank across the arms of the big chair so as he didn’t have to bend for the short back and sides. It was a quick buzz and a clip and you were done, but it seemed like such an adventure before you were old enough to decide that long hair was a way to go.
Back in the 1970s, if you hadn’t got a long mane of hair to shake when you were listening to rock ‘n’ roll, you had nothing. Besides, there was always an outside chance you’d be sent home from school with a note to your parents telling them to get you a haircut.
I remember having my hair cut in Liverpool Street Station in London by a very elderly Egyptian — it has to be four decades ago now. I had my first barber’s shave there, hot towels and the full works.
It was only when I was leant back and lathered up that I realised the poor man had really shaky hands — not the most comforting of sights when my neck was fully exposed and his viciously vibrating hand had a very large ivory-handled open razor in its grasp.
Yes, there were a couple of slight nicks inflicted, but I managed to survive to be able to write about it now.