Barbershop Strop

These days having a hair cut is a fairly straight forward experience. On arrival, I’ll sit in the barbershop waiting area until it’s my turn to don a gown to protect against discarded hair. Once in the chair I’ll relay the style of cut I desire, receive the aforementioned cut, pay and leave the premises. During the above I’ll normally engage in polite conversation with one of the three amiable barbers who work in the shop.

Sadly, my existential haircuts haven’t always been that simple. Back in the 70’s I’d my childhood locks cropped at James Thow’s barbers on Durham Road, Low Fell. The south Gateshead shop situated opposite Reeds confectionary store and Cranston’s the jewellers. A location from where I believe it still trades many decades on.

It was in Thow’s where I’d many a young childhood strop, a consequence of hearing my mum’s habitual pre-cut instructions to the barber of “His hair needs a right good cut!” This disenchantment born from the fact it was the early/mid-1970’s and ‘everyone’ adorned locks past collar length.

Subsequently, on a regular basis I’d go through the futile actions of attempting to persuade mam to leave my hairstyle longer. An example of these verbal interactions provided below:-

Scene – My brother Ian, mum and me sit in the packed waiting area of Thow’s barbershop. Eventually it’s my turn for a haircut, signified by one of the crimpers standing by a recently vacated barber’s chair with open protective cape in hand. As he waits patiently the following interaction occurs after my mater’s intimation to him that I receive a “Right good cut!”:-

“But mum…. Everyone’s got longer hair these days!” I argued despairingly.

“Well I don’t care about everyone else’s hair!…. You and our Ian won’t be wandering around the place looking scruffy!” she countered in her firm West Yorkshire dialect.

“Nidgy in my class has got hair miles longer than ours, mum!” I pointed out, attempting to influence a maternal change of mind.

“Well he wouldn’t have if I was his mother!” came a response in ever growing tones of irritability.

“Could we compromise, mum?” yours truly pleaded. Desperate to save the vast majority of the locks that’d taken weeks to get to their current desired length.

“What do you mean by compromise?” my baffled looking mater enquired.

“Well leave the length of my hair more or less as it is, but still get our Ian’s cropped short.” I mischievously suggested.

“Get lost! That’s not fair, mum!” my brother interceded forcefully at this point.

“You’re both going to have good cuts!…. I’m ashamed to go outside with the pair of you looking so untidy!” Ian and I were assured by our unbending parent.

“Well just don’t come out with us, mum! Then Gary and me don’t need to get our haircut….. Meaning everyone’s happy” Ian cleverly (or so I thought) argued.

“Look, you’re both having a decent trim!…. Now one of you get in that chair; the barber’s waiting!” came our maternal orders.

“Look mum. It’s very busy in here today.” I’d point out motioning towards the many boys and men behind us in the queue. Prior to arguing “If we’ve less hair cut off it means these people will have less time to wait for their crops….. You’re always tell us to be thoughtful of others!” 

“Don’t be so stupid, Gary!…. That’s not what I meant by thinking of others…. I was talking about displaying humanity.” Mum rebuked, her patience being ever more tested.

“What’s humanity mean, mum?” my younger sibling enquired.

“Well it’s thinking of other people’s needs as opposed to just your own….. Especially people less fortunate than you.” mum countered, appearing to be growing tired of our delaying tactics and ongoing attempts to influence a change of mind.

Pointing at a man who looked like Catweazle, our kid sought further maternal clarification, asking “Well that man over there looks worse off than us. Would we not be showing him humanity by reducing his wait time?!” 

“No! mum barked back tersley.

At this point, with the crimper still patiently stood holding the gown open for Ian or me, it became clear the delaying tactics weren’t going to bear fruit, sparing our locks from a hefty culling.

This realisation leading to me disconsolately muttering towards my mother “I really think you need to take some lessons in humanity from Nidgy’s mum!” A comment that finally brought the interaction to a conclusion when mater screamed at me;-




  1. I remember we weren’t allowed anything other than short – dad was army. Good enough for him, good enough for us – I’m sure Elaine Patterson didn’t see it that way but dads are dads. Darren Wilson – our year – ended up as a hair dresser as well – bloody good as well. I will never forget Thows though 😊

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