Thursday, 22 December 2011

Have a Very Alcohol-mediated, Consumerist, Motorcentric, Advertising-driven and Illiterate, Xmas in Aberdeen!

I went to the barber. We like barbers, and we like the fact that there's a resurgence in their numbers on the streets of Aberdeen. Used to be, before the long boom, that there were lots of barbershops. Bastions of exclusive masculinity they were, where stoic-faced men and boys would sit or stand queuing around the edge of a smallish room, waiting in companionable silence or low-tone discussion for their turn on the barber's chair - impressively sturdy yet mildly frightening-looking in its functionality, sharing as it does a common ancestor with the dentist's chair. Ranged round the room - stonily staring either into the middle distance or at the chequerboard linoleum floor we would be; men together at one with the laminarity of our own smooth thoughts in that masculine mindscape which may flourish in quiet, understated and conducive spaces like the barbershop. Places like that are where best the masculine mindscape can range wide and smooth - idea upon idea distilling and concentrating, concatenating and ramifying; creative patterns merge and blossom - for it requires just that sort of continuous unity of environment and encounter for its best experience and function. The only sounds in the barbershop the whispered, measured tones of sober discussion, the hum of the electric clippers and the snick-snip of the finishing scissors, then a whispered "...and something for the weekend? Sir?" and the man currently being groomed was brushed down. He'd stand up, pay - and then it'd be your turn for the buzz-cut. No crap, no smalltalk, no faffing about, no feminisingly fragrant and functionally extraneous trichological 'product' - just an effing haircut, done expertly, quickly and cheaply by a grown man who you could trust had done exactly that same thing a million times before. You could have faith that in ten minutes flat he'd have you'd stepping out of the chair with your hair looking exactly like that of the NASA test-pilot you expected it to. What could possibly go wrong with such a simple activity, so quiet and uncomplicated a space, so straightforward a commercial relationship? 

When the long boom came, the barbershops one by one began to disappear - we thought it was natural wastage - the old barbers retired and their premises became unisex salons. Full of 'lifestyle' magazines, conditioner/gel/mousse/whatever 'product' (to be sold on commission), pop music videos, and late-teenage girls who would charge a small fortune for taking up to an hour to make a frankly bad job of cutting your hair. Sometimes these places would have aquaria. But, worst of all - oh by far worst of all - the smalltalk; the juddering discontinuity of arbitrary inconsequential crapchat, destroying the unity of the masculine mindscape. 

Now that the long boom is at an end, and the politicians and commentariat begin to  think about ways to try and tell the electorate that a return to economic growth may not actually be feasible, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good and barbershops are returning to the urban scene in Aberdeen - we daresay it's the same story all over the country.

So, more or less on a whim, I walked into one of Holburn Street's growing number (seven at the most recent count) of barbershops which have recently begun to typify parts of the town-centre. All appeared as it should have been: chequerboard linoleum flooring; fuss-free interior; traditional-looking barber's chairs; no branded hair 'product'; a small queue of men with reassuringly blank looks. All correct. I expected that I shared a common frame of reference with barber and clientele alike. But I was wrong.

Regular readers will know that we at Other,Aberdeen believe that - rather than the ticket-price or up-to-datedness of gewgaw possessions; rather than the external veneer of mere ostentation; and rather than an overdraft of ersatz happiness from the bank of Boozy Britain, the key to well-being is to be sought in the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, the strength of our relationships and the sustainability of our activities. So I was disappointed to to be subjected to the smalltalk of the barber who first asked me what sort of car I drive. (Living in the town centre, it's not necessary for me to own a car, so I do not.) That smalltalk opening gambit having failed, the barber then asked whether I would be out drinking that night. (I do not drink.) 
"What! Not even at Christmas?" 
< No. > 
"Are you not even going to take a drink on Christmas Day?" 
< No. I don't use it. > 
Eyebrows raised, and head shaking, the barber blew a breath out from between pursed lips: "Pffft".

Next I was asked what I expected to "get" for Christmas (I was not asked what I would be giving). And then, once my hair was cut and I had paid, I was handed a little seasonal promotional 'gift'; a barbershop-branded beer-bottle opener: "In case you change your mind and decide to have a wee cheeky beer or two over the festive season". The fact that I do not use alcohol simply could not, would not, fit into the barber's world view, especially at Christmas! 

Walking back home, I reflected on how misunderstood the straightforward desire for simplicity can be. At this time of year especially, and with the western world's economies undergoing the convulsions of phase change to a low- or no-growth future - we hope that simple, unmediated pleasures, unfreighted with commercial content and free from reliance upon fragile critical dependency networks become valued once again. I quickened my step, eager for the simple pleasures of hearth and home on that winter day. The day's consignment of Christmas cards awaited me in the vestibule. Among them, this gem:

Where to start with this copyright busting, advertising-subsumed, commercially complicit piece of seasonal "cheer", parasitising as it does upon the mass-culture iconography which has developed around the secondary arbitrage market for car insurance? Perhaps it is enough to simply point out that the producers of this Christmas card have mis-spelled "meerkat".

With Season's Greetings to all our readers!

Other, Aberdeen

4 comments: said...

Oh KeyStakeholder,

I actually find myself putting off visits to the barber just to avoid having to explain that 'no, I didn't see yesterday's match, no I haven't heard the latest transfer rumours and no, actually I don't think that worshipping ever-changing league positions just as Pagans worshipped the rise and fall of the sun is a very good way to live your life.'

Happy holidays.

Key Stakeholder said...

And Happy Holidays to you too, Lewis. How's the play going?

Anonymous said...

It's going well, I think. I'm going to put it on around Feb/March, although bits (& 'bonus material') should be online before then.

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend once persuaded me to go to a "proper salon" to get a haircut. After being subjected to "salon chat" and asked where my clothes were bought (Me: "ummm...shops") and then advised where I should now be shopping to get the latest fashions, my hair was straightened and I was charged £35 for the pleasure. I've since been happy with my £8 trim at the walk-in barber!