Monday, April 11, 2011


Barbara & I enjoy the one-hour Poirot adaptations on PBS. One, which we have enjoyed a couple of times, is How does your garden grow? A side plot has Poirot's hapless sidekick, "Captain Hastings", messing up Miss Lemon's payment system, by overpaying "Trumper's". There really was a fashionable West End "Gentlemen's Hairdresser" by that name. The incident triggered an early memory, although I never patronized that establishment. My Bond Street hairdresser was "Robert Douglas".

When I was about 6, my mother would take me in the train from Redhill to Victoria, from there we could catch a bus to the West End. Her objective was often the up-market store known as "Marshall & Snellgrove". She would "have her hair done", sometimes a "perm", sometimes what I dimly remember was a "wash and set". I was allowed to sit and read while my mother's hair was being worked on, and when I was a little older, I was permitted to explore, checking out other departments. We would have lunch in the restaurant: in those days, a plate of Roast Chicken and vegetables was quite a treat for me. When my mother bought something in another department, she would simply tell the shop assistant to "put it on my account: Mrs Lindsey-Renton, Dovers, Reigate." This was before the days of credit cards: no I.D. was needed.

On occasion, we went to Harrod's, my favorite store, instead, and even patronized Selfridges: I think my mother preferred not to shop there, since it was owned by an American...

When I was considered old enough to have a London haircut, I didn't need to make an appointment. I don't remember ever having to sit and wait for a empty chair. I soon learned to pay the modest price and include a suitable tip.

Years passed, and in 1957 I had my first American haircut somewhere in the journey by car from Chappaqua, NY, to Los Angeles. The price shocked me: it was close to the same number of dollars as I was used to paying in shillings! I certainly remember paying $5 later, and thinking it extortionate...

For over forty years now, I have gone every few weeks to the same barber's shop on Shattuck Avenue, about a mile from our home. First, the barber was Tony, an amazingly fast cutter. I used to go on Saturday mornings, as I usually didn't go into the office on the weekend. His advertised starting time was probably 9 a.m., but I soon learned that he arrived before then. I was one of his customers who would line up until he arrived, in order to be early in line. Tony only made appointments for Thursdays. He could cut six heads in an hour, so the wait wasn't too long.

Tony had a hobby, investing in the stock market. I think he received tips from some of his customers. He would talk of his successes while cutting hair. He also enjoyed golf, so he spent much of his waking life on his feet. I suppose I began paying about $8 for a haircut.
In due course, another fine barber (Dale) took over the second chair in the same shop. One day, when Tony must have been about 50, he decided to retire. Dale then became my barber. He had been in one of the concentration camps during WW ll.

Slowly the price of a haircut rose as the years passed. An interesting young woman, Nina, took over management, and brought in her own customers. Nina is the daughter of a Pakistani army officer and a Thai mother, and doesn't look her age (late forties). Dale continued to rent the second chair. When Dale in turn retired, Nina began cutting my hair, and she has probably been my barber for close to twenty years now.

The price continued to rise, and my friend Nina says that she only raised it when her rent went up. Fora few years it has been $30, and I pay it ungrudgingly. Nina is the only person who calls me "Mr. Nigel". She does an excellent job with my very conventional hairstyle. I still have plenty of white hair, and I was secretly delighted when she found it necessary to thin it, on my last visit.

There are other branches of Peet's, where I buy my coffee. We even have a Trader Joe's in the neighborhood. But there's only one Chez Panisse, and one "Nina's Place". Can you wonder that I prefer to live in the home I share with Barbara? Who needs a retirement home?

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