Mr Steven 2: The Cutting Edge

John Ward
John Ward
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WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward

I mentioned in passing a little while ago the antics of our (then) barber Mr Steven – or ‘Uneven Steven’ – perhaps the only barber or gentleman’s hair stylist that was the antichrist when it came to straight lines as in hair cutting and the chances of a straight cut haircut was a 50/50 situation once in the chair as he strode into action with clippers and scissors.

His customers sat there with fingers crossed that they might walk away with a decent haircut with equal lines at the back and sides although he did manage to get the parting somewhere near the middle or acceptable if you were prepared to walk with a permanent lean, as it would be there for a while and not just when family came to visit sort of thing.

Since this memory jogger appeared I have been asked by assorted folk if there was more to this ‘Hairdressing Rambo’ and the following may also shed further light on what was really one of those people that we used to look upon as being ‘bit of a character’ as opposed to being deranged or barking mad in today’s world.

The question mostly raised was if he was so bad, how he did he get customers and there are several answers to that and if any come to mind, I will let you know at some point.

So until then, it was a case of (1) he was local and (2) he also sold other things from ‘the shelf’ next to the cabinet where he kept the cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco and pipe cleaners although oddly he never sold pipes but (3) he was much cheaper than anyone else in our area and so worth taking the risk/gamble.

As well as ‘hairdressing’, one of his well known lines was ‘herbal tobacco’ and this was dispensed from a sort of big tin that looked if it was left over from World War 1 and neither side wanted to claim it back as it looked that bad.

A customer glided in and asked for a ‘bit ‘ole herbal’ and this was weighed or measured out with a sort of miniature soup ladle type of kit.

Once measured out it went into a paper bag, the money taken and if we were unlucky the purchaser would then go round to the ‘waiting area’ and sit down to wait his turn for a hair transformation or at the very worse, a haircut.

While waiting, he would fill his pipe with the said ‘herbal’ stuff.

In those days it was possible then to smoke indoors without fear of being transported to Devil’s Island as like today.

Then there was the ignition sequence as this could take as many as a dozen or more matches to get it going (ciggie lighters usually ran out of fuel first) although you may have guessed, Mr Steven also sold boxes of matches as well.

The smell from this mixture was vile and consisted of possibly left over anchor rope used for mooring the Queen Mary in dock with a hint of mildewed hay bale plus a dab of horse liniment for taste.

Once it caught light or ignited, it poured out smoke as it spat out pops, bangs and sparks and rattled away like November the fifth and as the test pilot sat there he would pull the pipe out his face and speak and cough in unison: “You can’t beat a good bit ‘ole stuff like this, now can you?” and with an eye on the till, Mr Steven smiled and agreed with him.

In many respects he was not unlike the character Arkwright as played by the ‘Open All Hours’ on television and they could have been half brothers at worse.

Social history section. Coming from an era where certain things were taboo to speak about, unlike today where there is greater understanding such as to certain birth control requirements, in the years gone by it was the thing to ask for ‘something for the weekend’ as this was the euphemism if you were for asking for contraceptives.

On one occasion I sat waiting for a hair transformation and someone popped in and it was quite obviously his ‘first time’ for asking for such things and as I sat there reading the July 1927 copy of ‘Yachting Today’ including the Mind Your Knots supplement, we heard him ask with: ‘I want SOMETHING for the weekend, please... you know..’ and he kept winking at Mr Steven and he looked at him as he repeated his request, with an even more knowing pronounced ‘wink’, and as Mr Steven perhaps had not seen him before, sold him a pair of sunglasses but oddly he paid up and shot out like a rocket.

Mr Steven came back to carry on carving, sorry, cutting the patient’s hair and he said to all of us present: “That young chap seems to know we are having some good weather this weekend as it could be turning out quite sunny if his requirements are anything to go by”.

We sat, we looked at each other, we went back to our reading.

On another occasion a friend’s brother went in and asked for the very same thing – a number of times – as Steven just stood there silently looking at him – as in ‘I want SOMETHING for the weekend p-l-e-a-s-e..’ and as being again unknown to Mr Steven or rather not one of his ‘regulars’, he sold him a paint roller.

Once back out the shop, he produced said paint roller to a group of assembled friends and there was much discussion as to how this paint roller was to be used/applied or even fitted for the supposed purpose it was intended for with various wild guesses as to which end went where as it must be pointed out, none present where educated to university or college level and as there were no apparent instructions supplied with it, a trip to the library was perhaps the next port of call to look up paint rollers in the reference section, top shelf section of course.

One incident that ‘did the rounds’ as they say was a client/patient/volunteer who was sitting reading away while waiting and spotted something odd on the floor near where he was sitting.

On closer inspection, he ventured to pick the item up and to his horror saw it looked like a dead, decomposed mouse. Mr Steven looked across and asked what it was and it was handed to him to inspect and he muttered something and placed it on the shelf near the cash till and said: “If nobody claims that within a fortnight, you can keep it as being the finder – remind me nearer the time.”

Amid the total silence Mr Steven ventured that it perhaps happened when one of his clients combed their hair ‘too quickly’ (!?) with a metal comb and caught the ‘little blighter’ (!?) and then warned those present to be very careful or better still, use a plastic comb which fortunately he had a good well priced range on his counter and to ask on the way out. Mr Steven was indeed a cut above the rest.