Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Barber of Seapoint

A few days after arriving for good in the City of Cape Town, I looked at the dishevelled mess on top of my head and decided that it was a time I found a hairdresser. Now, coming, as I did, from Gauteng, I knew that hairdressers were expensive things. It was also fairly difficult to find a place where you didn’t have to go through the dubious pleasure of entering the ultra chic, cliqued, mirrored environment of people sitting languidly with silver paper strips sticking out of the heads, while emaciated orange haired waifs wandered around with brushes and scissors in their hands, along with hollow-eyed Gothic gay boys and leather girlz with studded belts.

So, living in Sea Point, as I was at the time, I decided to try the local fare. I went into one of these places. The being at the front desk pursed her lips as I entered and looked disbelievingly at the diary, then back again at me. I wouldn’t say she was directly hostile – but clearly, I was difficult – at first and even second glance - to fit into the usual categories. I don’t have enough hair to perm. I am not a teenager, nor a rich, fashion conscious woman, nor indeed, was I a bride to be. I suspect she decided that I had either come in to collect someone, or become disorientated and lost my way from the old age home. “Can I help you?”, she said, between chews on her gum and with a disconsolate twirl of a strangely positioned rats tail on her head.

“I would like a haircut,” I said emphatically. She glanced at my balding pate. “Do you have an appointment?” she enquired icily. No I didn’t, I admitted. Oh well, she was very sorry (and somehow relieved, I detected, because I would have undoubtedly changed the tone of the place). “Everyone is completely full”, she said. “I can fit you in on Thursday,” she said. The day was Monday. I left.

And so it was, as I went from this hairdresser, to that hairdresser. From one side of the street to t’other. And they were all, snootily booked for the afternoon. “Can anyone do a walk-in?” one front desk being shouted? (I had become a “walk-in”). The silence was clear, above the roar of the dryers. Heads turned. Women craned to get a better view of the “walk-in”. I was clearly not a desirable customer. And worse I had not observed the, clearly very strict, protocols.

And so it was that I stumbled upon “Budget Haircuts”, which had a hand painted read and white pole on the outside, and, in more dubious hand painting, the boast that haircuts were done at “R18 or R20”. An old sign, I thought.

I entered. It was like Alice stepping through the looking glass, or C S Lewis’s cupboard. I entered another realm.

It was a smallish room, but every available inch of it was covered by something slightly more peculiar than the object next to it. It was the strangest mix one could ever imagine. There was a mould of a saxophone on the wall; a tapestry of some scene in Spain; a very old and colour-washed picture of Table mountain; a monstrance; a guitar with no strings; some plastic flowers in a vase; a feather boa. I could go on, because there was a whole lot more.

The barber’s chair was a sort of camping barber’s chair. It looked as though it might have a leg missing. In front of it was a No Name Brand spray bottle of window cleaner, the label still intact, but the contents replaced with water. Next to that, a bottle of meths. All around the chair was a pile of hair, at least the depth of one’s shoe. It was mesmerising, with every shade of human hair one could imagine. Then a part of the hair pile moved alarmingly and I realised that some of the hair belonged to a dog, which seemed to have been lying in (or rather under) the human hair.

“Come in!” shouted the Barber of Sea Point. “Ten minutes. Please sit down.” I was committed now. I had to sit down and gaze at more of the extraordinary objects in this shop. From an extremely elderly record player, light classics were being played. The room filled up with other potential customers. They were young, old, men women. Some looked well-to-do, others looked the worse for wear. They were all greeted with the same “Ten minutes! Please sit down”.

The Barber himself, is a fairly tall, thin man, in his early forties. That day he was wearing a leather suit. I have subsequently seen him looking like a hippie, once like a painter, another time like something out of the nineteen fifties.

I was expecting the worst, when he shook off the hair from the previous-but-one’s hand sewn sheet, which he then fastened around my neck. I started to itch immediately. I described what I wanted and he started cutting. Hair flew in all directions. The scissors snipped the air several times and then with a flourish, went back into the little hair I have on my head. Then the shaving machine. Hair was flying in all directions. I got sprayed several times with the window cleaning bottle and I noticed that the meths was used for disinfecting the combs. He paused to flip the record over and instruct his wife not to serve the dog’s food too hot. Meanwhile, the smell of a pie was wafting from the microwave, which his wife seemed to be preparing for lunch. I paid, and got two Rand change from a twenty Rand note.

I left the shop completely shell-shocked. I rushed home to shower and inspect the damage. To my astonishment, the haircut was more than adequate. It was excellent! The Barber of Sea Point is now my hairdresser of choice and he has taught me, without doing anything other than be who he is and doing what he does, that one should be very careful about judging books by covers. From what I have seen of him, he is a decent, extremely kind, very skilled and totally free spirited man. I heard him helpfully suggesting to one of his clients, who owned several exclusive coffee shops in Cape Town, that what Cape Town really needed was a place that sold Frisco coffee – not all this fancy schmancy expensive rubbish! “You’ll see!” he said. “You’ll see how many people come to buy that!”

Well, I’m not too sure about that, but what I know is that I would far rather go to this honest and totally unpretentious man for my haircut, than to a thousand tarted up, fashionably mirrored places, that charge you to wash the hair you washed a few hours before. I wonder what the Barber of Seapoint’s opinion is of Jacob Zuma ? I think I should ask him someday. I’m fairly sure it would be interesting.

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