Conversations with the Barber

Gawie used to cut our hair when we were at primary school. His barber shop was next door to Mr Scoutarides ladies hairdresser. They both spoke English poorly. Gawie also spoke Afrikaans and advised on the horses; I think he used to cut the hair of the local Newmarket
jockeys. Mr Scoutarides was fluent in French, Italian, Arabic and, yes, Greek.

Gawie’s shop was simple. It was narrow with a large window and glass door making the frontage. From the door on the right side as you entered you could see the plain wooden chairs for customers to wait along the wall. If you peered through the sign writing, beneath the letters in Green with gold edging that spelt “Springbok”, there were two mirrors and old fashioned barber chairs covered in brown leather. The chairs had a round cast iron base, I think of red, with a chrome piston and pedal to raise or lower the seat. There was another smaller chrome lever in the small of the back of the chair that allowed the operator to recline the chair for a shave on the customer. A head rest would be fitted for this to support the neck. A leather strap hung from a small hook. The open blades that shaved the customers were sharpened with lazy to and fro movements of the barber as they
exchanged titbits of information.

Our haircuts were never a luxurious experience like the hot lathered shave implied. We sat on the chair, were covered with a loose fitting sheet, the chair was pumped up and our hair was cut. Short back and sides, for school. The closest we came to luxury was the horse hair brush that was used to brush loose hair away and into our backs so we could itch for the rest of the afternoon. There was no facility for a shampoo and wash. You had to go to the ladies hairdresser next door for that.

Springbok Barber was two shops away from the entrance to JS Centre, where my father had his offices. He had the barber as a tenant for as long as I could remember. Gawie was a really pleasant barber. He was quick and cheap (I think we used to pay 50 cents for a haircut) and never kept us waiting.

But he was always tempted into trouble with my father. My father was usually tense and rushing off to some or other meeting and felt he need a trim to tidy his hair. He was particular about appearing professional. He would sit in the chair as if it was a throne, and Gawie would cut his hair just the way he wanted, leaving the forelock slightly longer to be combed back.

But Gawie was tempted by wanting to trim my father’s bushy eyebrows. My father would never let him, and threatened him with expulsion from the premises if he did.

Poor Gawie.

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