...THE DEMON BARBER OF GORLESTON.
HALF A HAIR CUT.
I have often been asked why I shave my head. My reply is two-fold.
Firstly I do not want to be mistaken for a cross between a lavatory brush and a Benedictine monk. Secondly, I would go to far further lengths to avoid the obligatory conversation in a Barber’s (oops, sorry, “Hair Stylist’s“) shop. Soccer, motor cars, a rehash of the Daily Mail’s front page and the weather, all wrapped up in expected circular jocularity just about have a thick edge over Chinese water-torture.
Now, when I was a boy…
CLAUDE "SLASHER" MOWLE
Claud, aka “Claudie” Mowle was a local Gorleston barber.
He had cut grandfather’s and father’s hair when they had been in infants classes at school. Of near skeletal appearance he presided over a one chair emporium resembling the lab of a medieval alchemist short of just the obligatory stuffed crocodile suspended from the ceiling.
There were shelves of mysterious lotions, potions and oddly shaped bottles of what looked suspiciously like rats’ pee. He had a curiously cultivated voice that added to a sinister persona.
Slightly scared of him, we boys were never the less drawn to his shop, not so much by his skill as his taste in erotic calendars. These invariably featured big bare-breasted girls and in a time when porn was as hard to come by as anything else… Sadly a clerical customer complained, so thereafter the featured girls were rendered decent by strategically placed pieces of sticking plaster.
At least his customers could be confident in their hair styling. We could have any style we liked so long as it was short back and sides larded down with a thick layer of Brylcream. Small wonder we all emerged looking like oily extras from a production of “Oliver!”
SOMEHING FOR THE WEEKEND, SIR?
There was much speculation between us about his whispered “Anything for
the weekend sir?” to everyone over the age of 16. My mate and I could not understand why one of our teachers looked so shifty and embarrassed when we saw him conducting a furtive transaction with Claudie in a little side room. It was only much later
that we discovered Claudie’s role in having helped to prevent the Baby Boom from turning into a foetal explosion.
He was also the slowest barber in the west. And on THAT unforgettable night he was at his slowest.
DICK BARTON AND HALF A HAIRCUT
Mum had been at me for sometime to get a hair cut. So far I had managed to evade it but this time after school she had me cornered,
“No haircut, no wireless!” No wireless, no Dick Barton.
“But mum…” I began, but she remained stony hearted. I took the shilling she gave me for the operation and dragged myself out of the front door and up to High Road. I was easily but foolishly diverted by contemporaries playing in Trafalgar Road, so by the time I got to Claudie’s it was full of men on their way home from work. I was in for a long wait. I looked at the wall clock, it was then 4.30. Dick Barton was on at a quarter to seven. Would I get back in time to hear the latest episode? Could Dick save Snowy and Jock in time?
Peering through the fog of Woodbine smoke I made out Claudie begin the routine on the first customer that he would repeat on every single one of the rest. Towel placed around the shoulders, cotton wool to prevent hair going down the back of the neck, a wracking cough with his fag miraculously staying in the corner of his mouth, “Did sir want a haircut and/or a shave? Is it still cold out, sir? Short back and sides it is sir!”
So far he had not picked up comb, scissors and clippers. Then came the aforsaid rehash of the news according to the Daily Mail, a discussion of the recent football results and the runners and riders at the next day’s race meeting. (The more things change the more they stay the same.)
It had taken him 15 minutes, and just to start on a haircut! If someone wanted a shave as well, I would be lucky to get out of there in time for supper. Even by that stage I was as impatient as any 7 year old has a right to be with one eye on the clock and the other on the chair. Each customer before me added to my suspense.
At last, at last, it was my turn. If Claudie got a move on, I could still get home in time for the serial! I settled down on the cushion he had placed on the chair. Seeing I was comfortably settled, at last Claudie started on my hair. Having combed and straightened it he started to apply the clippers when the sky fell in!
With my serial about to start and a 5 minute run away I leapt out of the chair. Making for the door I left behind Claudie and his pathetic warning for me to come back as he had not finished.
As I sprinted home, the street lights came on. Power cut over. I raced through our front door and flopped down at the table with time to spare, mother on one side, grandmother on the other.
“That’s a good haircut, boy!” said nanny. Mother looked at me from the other side,
“What haircut?” she said, “He’s had no haircut!” Turning swiftly and sharply to me, the two of them demanded to know what had been going on….cut on oneside, shaggy on the other. I gave a stuttering explanation, but all to no avail. I was promptly sent back to get the job finished or at least with a refunded 6d from the cost. As my mother put it in pushing me out of the door,
“Half a haircut’s only worth half a bob!”
Of course when I appeared in the shop it gave everyone a huge laugh at my expense. In a rare show of good humour and generosity, even Claudie relented and refunded my shilling.
Claudie was to to continue barbering for a few more years. Towards the end, however, his eyes started to go and he developed a noticeable twitch. Grown men were seen to leave his shop post-shave with pieces of sticking plaster adorning chins and throats. Many of them went home to their wives, wild eyed, gibbering and palsied after their ordeal.
Even long retired Claudie lived on in folk memory. How could one forget “Slasher” Mowle- the demon barber of High Road?