March 23rd, 2007
My hair is rubbish! Every day is a bad hair day. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a hair-cut that I’ve been happy with. I can also say that it’s never particularly bothered me because I’m not a vain person. So it always looks terrible. Always has – always will. I’m resigned to it.
The traditional, something-for-the-weekend-sir, men-only barbershop is something of a dying breed in the UK. I haven’t been to one myself since the early 70’s. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of them about, and some of them do a very good trade. But the unisex hairdresser now takes the lion’s share of male mane management.
Not in Cyprus though, by the look of it. There are at least a dozen men’s barbers just in the central area of Larnaca. Overall, there must be many more. And this is a town with a population of about 75,000 – slightly smaller than Hastings at 85,000.
I’m not saying that you can’t find a unisex hairdresser here – there’s even a Toni & Guy – but quite obviously, the hair-chopping culture here is a bit different.
When I arrived in Cyprus back in October, I was desperately in need of a haircut. It was looking very wild and wooly, and it was much too long for the prevailing temperature of 30ºC. It hadn’t actually been cut since April 2005 (not sure how that happened – I always used to have it cut every six weeks). So one of the first things I did was seek out a barbershop.
As I walked in there, my mind went back to that hair-cutting episode eighteen months previously. A friend, who for her own protection shall remain nameless, had been on at me for ages to let her cut my hair. No previous experience, so the answer was always No! But for some extraordinary reason I finally relented and let her loose with a pair of scissors.
I sat at my computer while she snip-snip-snipped away behind me. I really didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on. She’d stand back occasionally and go “Hmmm!” and then carry on snip-snip-snipping. I do remember that it seemed to be taking an awfully long time.
Eventually she found the courage to say that she’d finished, adding, “I hope you won’t be too shocked – it’s not quite what I had in mind!“
‘Shocked’ ??? That wasn’t a word I wanted to hear!
So I had a look in the mirror – and I was shocked! Too shocked to say anything initially.
“Well I kept trying to even it up and it just kept getting shorter and shorter“, she said in a pathetic little voice, trying to sound endearingly child-like.
To say that I was bald would perhaps be going a little too far. But at that moment in time it felt that way. There certainly wasn’t much left. Certainly nowhere to put a parting – there was nothing left to part! It was the shortest it had ever been in my life. Probably shorter than the day I was born!
But after a few minutes, I saw the funny side of it. I think she thought I’d be angry, but hey – it was only hair, and it would grow again. And like I said, I’m not a vain person.
The strange thing was, I quickly learnt to like it. It did actually grow on me, if you’ll excuse the pun. It was very low maintenance, very cool when the summer came along, and it saved me a small fortune in shampoo and conditioner.
And the whole point of recounting that story is because that is exactly the hair-cut I wanted again when I arrived in Cyprus.
So like I said, I went to a barber’s and I waited my turn. The proprietor was a Cypriot in his late fifties. I hoped he spoke English, which was affirmed when I heard him talking to someone else; so at least it wasn’t going to be a problem explaining what I wanted. It was soon my turn and he motioned for me to sit in the chair while he accepted remuneration from the previous client. I saw five pounds change hands. So that was ok. It wasn’t going to be expensive.
I don’t know about you, but my own experience of hairdressers is that they usually like to get some sort of clear indication as to exactly what is expected of them before proceeding to ply their trade on their unsuspecting victim. This very often comes in the simple, yet surprisingly succinct form of “How would you like it cut?”
Not in Cyprus apparently! He just picked up his scissors and began snip-snip-snipping away!
‘This should be interesting‘, I thought.
I waited for him to say something, but nothing was forthcoming. Not a word passed his lips during the entire operation. Not even the time-honoured, “And where are you going on holiday this year?“. Although maybe that’s not a question that a white-as-a-sheet foreigner often gets asked on a Mediterranean island!
I was going to interrupt his silence, but curiosity got the better of me. What was I going to end up with? A Mohican? A Mullet? The word ‘Moron’ shaved into the back of my head? So I let him get on with it and waited to see what the outcome would be. At least he didn’t keep standing back and going “Hmmm!”
It didn’t take him long. Unlike my previous assailant, I think he’d done it before! And lo and behold, I’d got exactly what I went in there for! It looked exactly as it had done eighteen months previously. I couldn’t believe it! How did he know? For all he knew, I might have just wanted a very light trim! I was impressed.
And then he spoke for the first time. “Six pounds!“.
‘Golly gosh‘, I thought (or words to that effect), ‘inflation’s running high in Cyprus‘. But I paid what I assumed to be the obligatory 20%, white-as-a-sheet-tourist tax, and wondered once again how he knew I wouldn’t complain. (I’d only been here two days – didn’t want to get locked up for GBH just yet)
Anyway, five months on and it needs doing again, especially now that it’s about to get a lot warmer here. So I’m probably about to repeat the experience and see what happens. I’m still as white as a sheet though! What little sun tan I picked up in October has long since faded away.
A word of warning though if you’re thinking of having a go at Barbershop Roulette. It’s only fun if you’re not in the slightest bit vain and really don’t care one iota what comes off the end of the production line. I was lucky!
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When I read through what I’d written, I noticed that I’d used the expression ‘not one iota’, meaning ‘not even just a tiny amount’, and wondered what its origin was. How had the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet come to be used in this way?
Wikipedia, to whom I often turn in times of knowledge crisis, had the answer:
The phrase derives from the introduction to the Antithesis of the Law in the Gospel of Matthew (a jot or a tittle), and became common in the theological debate which arose around the time of the Council of Nicea, regarding the nature of the Holy Trinity. The argument centred on which of two alternative Greek words, differing only in a single ‘iota’ letter, should be used in describing Jesus’s relationship to the Holy Trinity. One word, ‘homoousios’, would mean that Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father, and the other ‘homoiousios’, would mean that Jesus was of similar substance.
So now you know! And I bet you don’t care one iota.
Still, at least you can amaze all your friends next time it crops up in Trivial Pursuit!