Low life

My Burns Night haircut

3 February 2018

9:00 AM

3 February 2018

9:00 AM

At three o’clock I took half a bottle of Glenmorangie with me to Jimmy’s. That it was Burns Night, and Jimmy happens to be a proud Scot, was mere coincidence. When I walked in, Jimmy was putting finishing surgical touches to the back of a bullet-head. ‘Do you drink whisky, Jimmy?’ I said. ‘Oh aye,’ he said sadly, snipping at a single hair. But before I could take my coat off, he ordered me out again to the corner shop to buy lager to go with it. ‘What sort of lager?’ I said. He said: ‘You know that new lager called 13? Brewed by Guinness?’ ‘Never heard of it,’ I said. Jimmy looked at me pensively for a second or two before deciding that ignorance on that scale had to be disregarded. ‘Get half a dozen,’ he said.

When I came back, the bullet-head was gone. Jimmy dispensed whisky into two absurd little green glass Art Deco teacups, prised off two beer caps with a dessert spoon, and whacked up the volume of the CD player. (A folk singer was lamenting her ‘poor old horse’. Jimmy made no apology.) ‘Here’s to us,’ he intoned. ‘Who’s like us? Damn few. And they’re all dead.’ We clinked glasses and sipped. Over the rim of my cup I saw Jimmy go cross-eyed as the alcohol flooded his cells. I sat in his chair, removed my specs, and placed my teacup and lager bottle on a milk churn situated within a gowned arm’s reach. Jimmy adjusted the setting on his electric clippers, flourished them, and started shearing.

Jimmy is roughly my age (60) and skinny. His speech, thought, perception and actions occur at lightening speed. Once he starts, he stops talking only to squint at the end of his roll-up and relight it. His talk is an inspired, stream-of-consciousness, podcast-quality rap on anything that comes into his head.


He began with Scottish football in the 1960s, and Celtic football club in particular. He told me about his father taking him to his first match and what happened when the man standing next to him was openly urinating and Celtic scored the winner. When relating a story Jimmy does all the different voices and the various accents and most of the actions. (Here, he was jumping up and down with a clenched fist in the air and a crooked forefinger poking out of his flies.) And he manages all this while cutting hair with absolute focus. It’s like an unusual music-hall turn performed in a mirror.

After three quarters of an hour, though, I was overwhelmed. Mentally, I just couldn’t keep up. I sat there in a dissociative fugue, glaring at my thuggish reflection in the glass, swigging occasionally from the bottle while trying not to tilt my head back. Then the poor old horse came round again on the CD player and we sang our hearts out and I recommitted.

After Scottish football, it was glue-sniffing. Wasn’t Copydex the glue-sniffers’ preferred glue, I said in a rare intervention. Jimmy knew it was Evo-Stik. He told a story from his childhood in which a glue bag caught fire in mid-sniff and one of his pals stamped on it. The lad got Evo-Stik all over his brand-new ox-blood Dr Martens and a larruping from his mammy, who ‘wasnae daft’. Again Jimmy performed all the voices and the actions, finally whipping his own arse like a jockey in a photo-finish. I had once gone out with this very classy woman, I said, who sniffed Lady Esquire shoe conditioner. Which reminded me, I said, had he ever tried the smart drug Modafinil? I had two loose ones in my pocket and gave them to him. I also found a couple of Viagra pills and handed them over as well. ‘Anything else in there?’ said Jimmy on tiptoe, mimicking an eager then disappointed child. ‘No, that’s it,’ I said.

He’d never heard of Modafinil. I explained that it was a so-called smart drug that university students use to help them concentrate when revising for their exams and planning no-platforming protests. How long does it last? he said. ‘Fifteen hours,’ I said. Jimmy’s mouth fell open at such undreamed of human progress within his own lifetime. Then we polished off the whisky and Jimmy prised off more caps with the dessert spoon.

I stayed on after my haircut and went twice more to the shop for lager. The man in the chair after me contributed munificently to the beer run and he, too, stayed on after his haircut, as did the chap after him. As the thicket of empty bottles grew to a small forest, Jimmy’s artistic dedication and narrative verve remained undiminished, but his haircuts took longer and longer. I left the shop, finally, at 7 p.m. Talk about a shape changer.

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