Lessons from the Barber of Sea Point

2008-02-04 00:00

A few days after arriving for good in Cape Town, I looked at the dishevelled mess on top of my head and decided that it was 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, cliquéd, mirrored environment of people sitting languidly with silver paper strips sticking from their head, while emaciated orange- haired waifs wandered around with brushes and scissors in their hands.

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.

“Can I help you?”, she asked, between chews on her gum.

“I would like a haircut,” I said. She glanced at my balding pate. “Do you have an appointment?” No I didn’t, I admitted. Oh well, she was very sorry. “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 another. And they were all snootily booked for the afternoon.

And then I stumbled upon “Budget Haircuts”, which had a hand-painted red and white pole on the outside, and, in more dubious hand painting, the boast that haircuts were done at R18 or R20. 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; a feather boa.

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 had been replaced with water.

“Come in,” shouted the Barber of Sea Point. “Ten minutes. Please sit down.” I was committed now.

The Barber himself was 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, and once like something out of the 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.

I got sprayed several times with the window cleaning bottle and I noticed that the meths was used for disinfecting the combs. I paid and got R2 change from a R20 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 being who he is and doing what he does, that one should be very careful about judging books by their covers.

From what I have seen of him, he is a decent, kind, skilled and 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.

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 1 000 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 of Jacob Zuma is? I think I should ask him someday. I’m fairly sure it would be interesting.

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