I went to get my hair cut today. I tend to put this off, not because I’m fond of longish hair on middle-aged men; on the contrary. But, well, barbers tend to be talkative, in the way that dentists and taxi-drivers tend to be talkative, and all three (talkative) categories also tend to think that talking isn’t so much an exchange of pleasantries as their right, as though what you were buying weren’t short back and sides, or a six-monthly check up, or a ride to the station, but a lesson in how the world works. They think their jobs provide them with a soap box from which to lecture their captive audience, under the drill, or the blade, or the risk of missing the train that will take you away from this appalling fascist at the wheel. Once in my life, I’ve said ‘Let me out,’ and, to my surprise, the taxi driver did, and took no money, and I missed my train. And it was worth it, albeit annoying at the time.
The barber who cut my hair today greets me when I walk in, and that’s more or less it. He doesn’t ask me what I want – he knows. He sets to with his clippers and scissors and dubiously clean brush and blade and he does a very good job without uttering a word. In total silence, I think about the weather and my new novel and the odd intimacy of having a man I don’t know – and don’t want to know – stroke my cheek with the edge of a razor and stroke the short hairs out of my ear with his finger, and I’m mildly curious but absolutely not enough to ask. He thinks about whatever he thinks about, lips pursed, the 3D winking portrait of Christ behind him in the mirror. It’s wonderful. He isn’t as fast, or as good, or as fetching, as the young man next door to Bar Castello, who cut my hair a couple of times last year. But the last time I went the young man spoke and, like a fool, I answered. I should have said ‘Let me out,’ but I had a moustache half trimmed and everyone was listening, in shock, to my defence of Romanians in Italy.