It was the late 1950's and I was in my last year of primary school. I lived in a typical suburban neighbourhood where all the local families had young school aged children, the men went to work while most of the ladies stayed at home keeping house and visiting the neighbours for morning or afternoon teas. It was traditional that the children of one household called the heads of the neighbouring families Auntie and Uncle rather than Mr and Mrs so I referred to my neighbour across the road as Auntie Claire rather than Mrs Stensness.
As with most boys in those days my hair was cut in the traditional short back and sides with a parting on the left side combed over to the right. Swervyn Merv McKinley owned the local barber shop and had a virtual monopoly on mens and boys haircutting in the local suburban area being the only barber within about a two mile radius. In those days you got your haircut once every three weeks or so.
A couple of weeks ago I arrived home from school and Auntie Claire was at our house having afternoon with my mum. Swervyn Merv had just recently raised his haircut price fifty percent from five shillings to seven shillings and six pence. Auntie Claire and mum were discussing this increase with Auntie Claire getting quite angry. "Bugger him" I heard her say, "I did six months training to be a ladies hairdresser before I got sick of all the classroom work and decided to give it away. I can count that there are about fourteen boys in the local neighbourhood and six fathers. I reckon I would be OK on short back and sides haircuts with a pair of clippers in my hand, I'm gonna give it a try. My mum obviously looking to save a buck was all for it. "Why don't you" she replied. Apart from that part of the conversation I did not take any notice and went outside to play.
Today two weeks later when I arrived home from school I was met at the door by mum. "You need a good haircut my boy" she said "Auntie Claire has bought herself a pair of clippers and has offered her services as the neighbourhood barber for local boys and men. She is open for business this afternoon so here is two shillings nip on over and join the line".
I took the two shillings and ran on over to Auntie Claire's house. When I arrived she already had her new clippers buzzing giving one of her own sons the short back and sides treatment. "Hi John love" she said as I walked in the door "your mum said that she would send you over, I've got two more to do before you after I've finished Allen here so either take a seat or pop outside and play while you're waiting"
I elected to take a seat and watch Claire using the clippers. I could immediately tell that she had had some hairdresser training by the way she had Allen caped up and the way she had those clippers humming around his neck. It was not long however before she turned off the clippers and started cutting the hair on top using the scissor over comb technique. She was soon finished with Allen and after a quick brush down he was off the stool and outside to play.
Next up was Owen who normally had his haircut by his dad using the manual clippers but he was only too pleased when his mum told him that Claire had bought some electric clippers and had offered to do his and his brothers haircuts from now on. Owen thought it was great because his father always used to pull his hair when doing it with the manual clippers.
Owen hopped into Claire's chair and she soon had him caped up and ready to cut. She picked up her new shiny "Silent Giant Clukes" clipper and put a couple of drops of oil on the blades before turning them on. There were no plastic clip on clipper guards in those days so the barber or whoever was weilding the clippers had to be carefull not to dig them too deep. As it turned out Claire was a natural with them and she soon had completed Owen's cut, twice round with the clippers and then some off the top, with David coming after him and getting the same treatment.
"Come on now John hop in the chair" she said as it became my turn. "I'm not expecting any more tonight after you so I'm going to take my t
ime and get it right".
I walked over and sat down on the half height backed stool which Auntie Claire was using for her barber's chair.
"As soon as I've finished my smoke I'll be right with you love" she said as I sat there waiting.
It was not long before she was finished her cigarette and she soon had the cape around me and tied. She gave my hair a comb into its usual style and the picked up the clippers and clicked them on. With a couple of drops of oil on the blades you could hardly hear them running apart from a very low humming buzz. They sure lived up to their name "Silent Giant".
Claire placed her left hand on top of my head and starting on my right side in front of my ear ploughed the clippers up through my hair. She had the adjustable lever in the down position to give a course cut first time round and you could hear the scrunching type noise as the clippers shaved off the hair. With two or three strokes in each place Auntie Claire slowly worked her way from in front of my right ear and around my right hand side towards the back.
"You didn't know I could cut hair did you John", she said as I sat there, head straight to the front.
"No I didn't" I answered back.
"I did some training to be a hairdresser when I left school but I gave it away. Today is the first time I've used electric clippers though. They only had the hand operated clippers for the short time I was training but I was not allowed to use them anyway" she said.
Claire kept her left hand on top of my head in a tight grip as she made her way around to in front of my left ear. Eventually she completed the first round and there was an audible change to the sound the clippers made as she moved the lever to the up close cutting position. This time round she started in front of my left ear and I could feel the sharpness of the clipper blades as she shaved up the side of my head. This time she was not going quite so high up my head but I knew that low down this was a close cut. It did not take long for her to work her way round to in front of my right ear doing the close shaving and soon the clippers were turned off and placed on her kitchen bench.
Claire then took what appeared to be her dressmaking scissors and commenced cutting the top hair to about four finger lengths. She was very firm in the way she worked and it was not too long befor she was finished, finally combing my hair into its all familiar style. As she did not have a neck brush she dusted me off with a towel and then told me to go and check it out in her bathroom mirror. I was quite surprised at how close the sides had been clippered, leaving me with the proverbial white sidewalls but all the boys had been done the same.
I got back to the kitchen and Claire said that since I was last for the day I could put away her clippers and sweep the hair from the floor. I picked up the clippers and placed them in the black clipper box circling them with the electric cord. I then placed the stool under the kitchen bench and swept up all the hair from the floor and placed it in the trash bin.
I thanked Auntie Claire for the haircut and gave her the two shillings.
When I got home mum took one look and said "thats as good a haircut as Swervyn Merv gives you, it looks like you'll be going to Claire from now on".
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