Going for a snip
It sounds dangerous, and it probably was – piles of bricks and rubble, and children climbing precariously through shells of bomb-damaged houses. Nowadays they might be called adventure playgrounds. This was London in the aftermath of the Blitz. My sister Hazel and I spent many happy childhood hours among this shattered background. In those early postwar days bomb sites and disused communal air-raid shelters were, so it seemed, just made for us.
Those first years after the war were hard: everything had to be rebuilt and austerity was the keyword, even though I didn’t know what it meant back then. Most things, including sweets, were still on ration, but one thing that wasn’t rationed was mischief, and like all children we got into our fair share of that. One example of this was my infamous haircut.
Hazel didn’t want to take me to the barber’s from the outset. She claimed that I always cried. That wasn’t exactely true. I sometimes cried when the clippers pinched my neck a bit. Mum was having none of it, however. Looking at me fondly, she smiled and said, “No he doesn’t, he’s a little man now, aren’t you?”
I readily agreed with this praise, and my small chest swelled out with pride even though I didn’t much relish the prospect of another haircut. Reluctandy Hazel agreed to take me: she had litde choice. Being the baby of the family and a boy following three gifls – my sister Elaine had died from meningitis when she was two years old – I’m sure that I was more than a litde spoiled. Mum was a widow and needed to work to
supplement her widow’s pension and make ends meet. My eldest sister, Nina, had now started work but there still wasn’t much left over for extras.
We didn’t go hungry: we ate wholesome food, but it wasn’t always the most appetising. I recall wearing hand-me-downs, and with two sisters, even after alterations, it was obvious some of my shirts had begun life as blouses. Nevertheless, we were happy. We had love and laughter and we’d survived the war, sadly with the exception of our Daddy.
When Mum left for work that day, Hazel told me her plan. She suggested using the money Mum had given her for my haircut to go to the pictures instead of the barber. I happily agreed, even though I wasn’t so sure about the rest of the plan. It involved Hazel cutting my hair herself. She managed to convince me it wouldn’t hurt. I don’t quite know why I believed her. As far as I knew she’d never done it before. Call it brotherly love if you like, but anyway, I didn’t need much persuading.
Hazel gave her one and only haircut (fortunately she never grew up to be a hairdresser!). With her tongue pressed against her upper lip for concentration, snip went the scissors for the final cut.
“Done,” she said.
I was only glad it was over and that I’d survived. We both thought it seemed fine.
Later the general consensus was that it looked ghastly.
We went to the cinema. I don’t remember the main feature – it was a bit too mushy for me. I loved the supporting Laurel and Hardy comedy better.
Mum, of a gende nature, was usually kind and easy-going given her struggle to bring up three children alone. That evening she was so angry I thought she would explode. Confronted with the irrefutable evidence -me! – tearfully Hazel confessed. I cried in sympathy with her, as I often did. Mum, of course, attached little blame to me. I was too young to know better.
Hazel was grounded, though it wasn’t called that in those days. She received extra chores and wasn’t allowed out to play.
I was also grounded, unfairly, I thought. Mum had decided that I wasn’t fit to be seen out in public until my hair grew back. “Luckily for you,” she said, “it’s school holiday.” That puzzled me. I felt that I’d got the worst deal of all when I was forced to have very regular haircuts to get my hair back into some acceptable shape.
Much later we both realised how this must have cost Mum extra money she could ill afford. Years later we could all laugh about it, including Mum. We’ve long since forgiven each other, but I don’t think I’d risk letting Hazel do it again.