Yes I know I’ve said this before but in case anybody missed it or is new to my blog, I grew up in Yorkshire in the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically I grew up in Doncaster, the erstwhile self appointed capital city – never mind that it was only a town – of The Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire (Arthur Scargill, president). I say South Yorkshire but of course what I really mean is the West Riding, the administrative division of the county from the late 1880s until 1974.
Doncaster was surrounded by coal mines. Askern Main, Brodsworth, Bullcroft, Frickley, Goldthorpe, Hatfield, Hickleton Main, Rossington, Thorne and Upton. Even reading those names now brings a tear to my eye. They are Yorkshire poetry.
And that’s just the names of the collieries – the villages themselves are even more romantic. Woodlands, Carcroft, South Elmsall, Goldthorpe, Stainforth, Thurnscoe, Wath on Dearne, Armthorpe, Moorends and Edlington. Names to conjure with. Names synonymous with hard graft. Gritty names redolent of honest endeavour. For nearly a century, these great pits dug the black gold that fuelled British industry.
Sure there were pits in other parts of the British Isles. And they too exemplified some of the same values. But these pits were in Yorkshire. God’s country, as any Yorkshireman will tell you. As Yorkshire as Eccles cakes, Yorkshire pudding, whippets and Wensleydale. Yes I know that Eccles cakes technically come from Lancashire but we all know that is simply an accident of geography. Besides, my aunt Paddy who made the best Eccles cakes known to humanity came from Yorkshire. Or lived there at some point. Eccles cakes are therefore a Yorkshire food.
But nothing encapsulated the uncompromising nature of the Yorkshireman at large than the Demon Barber of East Laith Gate, Ray Fowkes*.
Ray was a barber. Not a hairdresser. He was quite clear on that point. He knew only one hairstyle – the short back and sides. To call it a hairstyle was in itself a misnomer.And to be honest, I never heard Ray use the word style in the entire decade he cut my hair. It was a haircut and if you didn’t know the difference, Ray was more than happy to explain. At length. Often his explanations included his thoughts on immigration, teenagers, pop music and the value of national service.
It would be fair to say that Ray wasn’t much of a listener.
Strangely, although he knew only one haircut, he executed it with precision. It took time. Sometimes quite a lot of time, depending on where Ray was in his latest soliloquy about Enoch Powell or nationalisation. Or his most popular mantra on the relationship between long hair and mental dissipation. I still remember the day when a young man – evidently not a local – explained to Ray that he was in a hurry, and would it be possible to have a quick haircut.
The entire salon (Ray never called it that) fell silent.
“You can have a quick haircut or you can have a good haircut” said Ray calmly.
It was like a Bateman cartoon. You could have heard a pin drop. I remember wincing as the man expressed his view that speed trumped accuracy. Ray nodded in acknowledgement. I remember biting my tongue three minutes later when Ray had finished his interpretation of the man’s instructions. It was indeed a quick haircut. Technically at least, in the sense that he had cut the hair. But it was probably closer to a shearing. There was something vaguely agricultural about the tufts and patches. You half expected it to reveal a branding mark.
“Did you have to do that, Ray?” asked one of the regulars.
“Aye” said Ray “lad’s got to learn”.
The lad did indeed learn – principally he learnt to go to a different barber. As did another who turned up in Ray’s shop with a copy of a David Bowie album. For maybe a minute, he pointed out the key features of the Ziggy Stardust hairstyle. Ray nodded at each juncture. Half an hour later, Ray was finished. The young man was plethoric
“Ziggy Stardust’s hair doesn’t look like this”
“It would if he came in here” said Ray. “That’ll be eleven and six”.
*Not his real name…