My Life and Barbers

In the good old days, back when I was a kid, my Dad used to take me onto Witton Rd into a barber’s shop that was run by one guy who was probably in his 40s. He was a Pakistani man and didn’t know much English. Being in a heavily populated area of Asians, he was used to the same old hairstyles – clippers for the back and sides, maybe a bit of a scissor cut on the top. Or even worse, when you get everything blade 2 (or less in some cases) and then you leave like a small fringe. £3.50 later, and after waiting a considerably long time (sometimes 4hours if we went in the Eid rush), me and my Dad would walk out and back into his car. Then off home to have a shower. That’s alright, and hey, the haircut was as cheap as chips.

The barber was a nice man too. I’m still fond of him today, almost 15 years later. He was my first barber, I still remember my first haircut with him. He wasn’t on Witton Rd and what you had to do was walk into a back alley, up a bare wooden staircase and then into this room with a mirror and one barbers chair. In the corner of the room is a white swivel top bin full to the brim with hair clippings and blue tissues that he’d put around your neck – for what seemed to be no apparent reason. The most vivid memory I have is of the radio… somehow always on 1296AM, Radio Excel. Yep… I don’t understand whatever language they speak on that but I heard the jingle enough times for it to permanently ingrain into my memory.

My barber soon upgraded and got himself a bigger shop with more mirrors and waiting seats. He even had a couch at the back and a toilet. No more holding in your pee! The bin of hair and the radio moved over too. Then I got old enough to go to the barbers myself and decided that I was fed up of bent sideburns and lopsided fringes. I didn’t want the bog standard haircut every chav in the whole of Aston and Lozells had – it just wasn’t me. And no offence if you like those kind of haircuts.

Then came TinTins on Lozells Rd. Here was a barber who knew how to speak english – so telling him what I wanted wasn’t so difficult. And it seemed that he actually knew how to cut hair in more than two styles. And at £5 a go, why would I go anywhere else? Not only was this place closer to my home, it also had a tv. The long Eid queues got that much more bearable. He also sold a few hair products and aftershaves, and being in my teenage years at the time – I thought it was all very cool.

But the same problems…. Then I realised that there was an issue. Asian barbers usually are sole traders – they do all the haircuts and so to make more money, they need to give you quick haircuts so that they can make more money. Naturally, it means they don’t spend much time on your hair… that’s why sometimes when you come home, you realise one chunk of hair is longer than everything else, or that your front bit is a bit bent or that your two sideburns aren’t quite the same length or at the same angle. This is alright if you get a clipper cut all around, but for anything else, it just didn’t cut it. Frustration after frustration, I figured paying £5 wasn’t worth the shit haircuts. I needed a proper barber. I didn’t want to come home with odd bits of hair hanging around.

A short internet search later, I discovered a place called Jacks of London in town. It’s near Tesco Metro, right next-door to the Rymans shop. The prices were a lot steeper (check their websites for more details), but I sort of fell in love with the place. For starters, there were like 8 barbers – that meant no rushing around. The seating area was more than 10 plastic chairs lined up against the wall, and you got to surf the net or play xbox whilst you waited. If you’re lucky, you got offered a drink and got your haircut straight away – a bit like I did today.

Going down memory lane again, I remember the first time I went in. The experience was something wholly different to what I was used to. No old asian men talking in Urdu to each other, no drug dealers and chavs, just a bunch of folks reading magazines and cutting hair. My barber was a woman! Who knew women were also barbers?! (FYI, women barbers are better because they have softer hands and a gentler touch lol).

Whats more is that you don’t have to wait ages even if it is busy. Jacks have a queue cam that you can check on their website. So whenever it’s shit busy, I wait a few hours/days before I go in…

First thing first, I washed my hair. Well I say I, I meant she washed my hair. All I did was sit back on a massage chair. Bloody hell that had never happened before. Hair dripping slightly, I got escorted to the area where the bizillion barber chairs are and then she started asking just as many questions. How do you want the length at the top, the sides, the back, the edge, the sideburns, do you want any colour, how do you style it, do you condition it? FFS just cut my hair. All I know is I like the back and sides scissor cut a bit short and the top a little long.

Finally after the hair style questions, she finally starts cutting my hair. Now she starts the small talk. Now see at Asian shops, you don’t really do small talk. The man’s so busy trying to cut your hair in 5mins he forgets to ask you anything. But when the barber takes a little more time, you get asked stuff like ‘What you unto tonight?’. That’s alright for most people, but I’m not most people. I am the world’s worst small talker. I just don’t know how to do it. Just to prove it: I once walked into a bank and gave the cashier some money and a bill to pay. She said something like ‘Oh we like taking your money’ and I just panicked and didn’t know what to say so came out with ‘Yes, and I like giving it to you’. Needless to say, she stopped counting and looked at me like I was a dickhead. WHO SAYS THAT?!

See, different place, different problems. Instead of shit haircuts this is what I had to deal with. On top of that, when you get your haircut done for £20+, you soon realise that these people will try to sell you their shop. They use products in your hair and tell you that your hair will fall off unless you buy a £30 moroccan oil. I learnt the hard way – just say no. Going in to spend £20 on a haircut and coming out having dashed £50 on a haircut and hair products you will never use is a mistake only I need to make.

And finally, the generic one about being a non-drinker in this country… Jacks treat you to a drink whilst you wait. Now normally I ask for water. But then the barber gets a bit “AHHH C’MON, have a beer”, to which I have to reply “No thanks, just the water please” “Is it too early for ya? Go on…” “Erm no, I don’t drink…. I’m Muslim” – cue awkward silence and him briskly walking off to get my water. Yes, awkward. It seems to happen everywhere I go lol. If someone can tell me how to turn down alcohol without sounding offensive, please do tell. New Years was another such example… clock hits 12am, and suddenly everyone’s got champagne out in little plastic wine glasses. Your lovely neighbour, who you’ve been standing next to and talking to for 6 hours, offers you a glass but you have to kindly decline. Once you realise he gets offended by this rejection, you have to sort of explain that you don’t drink… Awkward, again.

OK back to Jacks, so you get your haircut, and have a few products in your hair, you kindly reject the sales patter and go to pay. This is probably the best bit… but they give you a warm towel to wipe your face with. It’s a small touch, but my god it’s satisfying to get all those bits of hair off your face. Out you go, £20 poorer but the haircut is damn good.

Why am I writing this blog I hear you cry? Well, it just dawned on me that my fellow asian men are now at my age and looking to get into professional work. Simply put, you need a good haircut (see my article on Got an Interview…Think Carbs – good appearance applies even after you get the job). OK that last bit of advice, I don’t even take. I rarely shave and I get my haircut like 4 times a year. So if you see me with an overgrown stubble and what my girlfriend calls a mushroom top on my head, it’s because I can’t be arsed with the aggro of looking prim and proper… but whenever I start work, I promise to keep it slick.

Jacks of London by the way is a great place for guys to get their haircut. Seriously, try it at least once. And then if you don’t like it, don’t go again. Stop with the shitty haircuts at the Asian places. You need better because everyone realises when you have a crappy haircut.