Monday, 21 April 2014

Robert and the Summer Haircut


 
Mum still hadn’t given me permission to wear my long trousers to school and I was left wondering if the moths would get more use out of my longs than I ever would. 

It was a few weeks after my visit to the boys’ outfitters and I was due a haircut. Despite that fact that I was kept in short trousers, unlike any other fifteen year olds I was aware of, I was in other respects just like any fifteen year old in that I was inordinately vain about my hairstyle… what little hair there was left to be vain about after one of my regular trips to the barber’s shop. You see, that was another of mum’s little quirks in that she liked me to have what she called a ‘nice neat’ haircut. By this she did of course mean a standard schoolboy short-back-and-sides. 

Whereas most of the boys I knew were allowed to wear their hair down to and even touching their collars… and sometimes over their ears! Yours truly had to make do with fiddling with the little fringe left at the top of my forehead (mum would never allow the fringe to go any lower lest it ‘ruin my eyesight’). 

By the age of fifteen, as I’m sure you can imagine, I was itching to be allowed to let my hair grow a bit longer. For heaven’s sake a couple of boys in the Upper Sixth had hair so long it actually rested on their shoulders! And some boys even had centre-partings! 

I said that I was due a haircut, but what I didn’t add was that this was to be my ‘summer’ haircut. During the winter mum allowed me to have slightly longer hair, but even so it was never as long as the other boys at school. My summer cut was always much shorter. 

“Well, Robert,” mum would announce, “the weather’s warmer and the days are getting longer. I think it’s about time you had your summer haircut, don’t you?” 

To say anything other than to express my enthusiastic agreement would have been a grave mistake. I would have been accused of being ungrateful and to be ungrateful would have resulted in the loss of one of my many ‘privileges’ and in addition early bedtimes for a few days. So I could do nothing other than agree that, yes, it was time for me to visit the barber for my summer ‘trim’. 

“Now that you’re fifteen Robert, how would you like to go to see Mr Fenner [the barber] all by yourself?” 

“Yes please, mum,” I replied with as much eagerness as I could muster. Not to be enthusiastic at such a concession as being allowed to go to the barber on my own, would have been simply unforgivable, “I’d love to go…” 

“Are you sure, Robert?” 

“Yes, please mum… really, I’ll be okay. Thanks, mum…” 

And before I knew it a plan had started to evolve in my mind. If I was allowed to go to Mr Fenner on my own, maybe, just maybe, I could ask him to go a bit easy with the clippers… Hmm, yes, perhaps I could. 

One thing’s for sure; I must have been out of my mind! 

If I thought that mum wouldn’t notice I’d not had a proper ‘summer’ haircut, I’d need my head examined. But I was fifteen for heaven’s sake! I looked around at school and there didn’t seem to be any other boys like myself who was so much under his mum’s control. I felt compelled for the sake of my self-esteem to take a stand and telling Mr Fenner how I wanted my hair cut seemed a good enough place to start. 

I look back and wonder, had anyone known what was going through my mind at the time, how anyone could have taken me seriously. I mean I was still dressed permanently in short trousers; very short trousers. The longs which mum had bought for my fifteenth birthday still hung, unused, in my wardrobe and if I wasn’t wearing school shorts, I was dressed in my hideous short trouser suit. Yes, my embarrassingly long, smooth legs were kept continuously on display, making me the most shamefully self-conscious boy I knew. 

How can anyone expect to be a teenage rebel who is kept dressed like a little boy in short trousers? I mean really. How sad to think I could’ve deluded myself into thinking I was like other boys. Other boys who stayed up late; who wore demin jeans; who did all sorts of things without having their mums looking over their shoulders all the time; boys who weren’t bathed by their mums and buttoned up into their juvenile-patterned pyjamas by 8 o’clock at night! 

Oh, how I yearned to rebel! How I yearned to be a proper teenager! 

Yes! I would strike out and be independent; a free thinker; a rebel! 

I’d politely explain to Mr Fenner that I wouldn’t need him to cut my hair quite so short for my ‘summer’ cut this year. I was fifteen after all… 

“Thanks mum… I’ll go to Fenner’s straight after school tomorrow,” I told mum. 

“Remember to ask Mr Fenner for your ‘summer’ haircut, Robert.” 

“Yes mum.” 

That was it. Now I had nearly twenty-four nervous hours to wait until my appointment with the barber’s chair. I kept telling myself that I had to go through with my plan; that I’d be a wimp not to do want I wanted to do for once. But five minutes later I’d be shaking like a jelly, convinced that mum knew I was up to something. I just couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen at Mr Fenner’s; would he believe me when I asked for hair to be left longer. Perhaps he would ring mum to make sure I wasn’t telling him fibs. You see I was sure that grown-ups knew in an instant when I wasn’t telling the truth. Somehow I felt that my guilty sins (such as they were) were all indelibly printed on my forehead like some latter-day mark of Cain. All mum would have to do was to ask: “Are you sure, Robert?” and the truth would spill out of me as sure as night follows day. 

I was fifteen! And still this happened when mum suspected I’d not been telling the whole truth. Why could other boys get away with the things they did, but not me? One of mums adages, drummed into me from an early age, was that your sins would always find you out. I my case they didn’t need to come looking; I would confess even if I’d done nothing wrong just to be sure! What was it about me that made me blush whenever the teacher addressed the class to tell us of an unknown naughty boy who had done something wrong, as if I was the miscreant in question? Why did I shoulder this guilt? Why did I feel the need to be permanently on the alert in case it was found that, unknown to me, I had done something wrong? 

I’d get so annoyed with myself for having given in and confessed so easily to whatever infraction I had committed, that as soon as I could I’d go up to my bedroom. Then, try as I might not to, I would collapse onto my pillow and cry just like a little boy. 

“It’s not fair…” I’d say to myself as I felt the wet tears on my face, “It’s just not fair…” 

Why didn’t I have the self-confidence of other boys my age? Why did I give in so quickly? Why couldn’t I just stand up for myself? The most annoying part of it was that far from ticking off boys who were being, shall we say, economical with the truth, mum would likely as not just laugh off their wilder claims, leaving me gob-smacked because I knew that if it was me I’d as likely as not have a mouth-soaping for my trouble. However, mum considered bad manners and rudeness to be unpardonable sins and would always deal with the perpetrator of such behaviour no matter who it was. 

It wasn’t as if mum set out to show me up in front of my friends; she just didn’t seem to understand that how I was treated by her was the cause of my being teased and taunted so much. She didn’t see that connection at all. Didn’t she understand that no boy of my age wants his friends (or anyone for that matter!) to know how early he had to go to bed, or how he was dressed in old-fashioned boy’s pyjamas, or even how he was still bathed by his mum? Yet this information was freely given out by mum when she talked to her friends… I knew, because very often I’d be standing right next to her! Naturally this information would find its way to the ears of boys at school and they would delight in adding to my misery by making it quite clear what they thought. 

If mum heard me sobbing into my pillow she would come into my room and sit down next to me. “There now, Robert… you have a good cry… there’s no shame in having a good cry…” 

What did she mean?! Of course I was ashamed. A teenager, lying on his bed sobbing and being comforted by his mum… You bet I was ashamed! 

This then was the state of mind of the boy who was going to put himself through the ordeal of asking the barber to not give him such a short ‘summer’ haircut. Mole-hills, mountains, do I hear you say? Don’t be so sure. 

Needless to say I was a nervous wreck by the time I got off my bike at Mr Fenner’s. The barber’s shop looked more imposing than ever and my bare legs were positively shaking as I pushed the door open. The little bell tinkled and I stepped into the shop. Mr Fenner looked up and nodded. He was busy at his work and I took a seat and watched him as he turned back to carry on cutting a customer’s hair. I listened to the scissors clicking and watched Mr Fenner’s fingers as they pulled up the man’s hair, before snipping it a little shorter. Unconsciously I found myself brushing my hand over the top of my head and feeling my hair, soon to be even shorter than it already was. 

I picked up one of the old motoring magazines from a pile on the table beside my chair, but I couldn’t concentrate. I told myself that it wasn’t too late to change my mind; I didn’t have to ask Mr Fenner to not cut my hair as short as I knew I should. Mr Fenner put the scissors down and picked up a pair of electric clippers, flicked the switch and the familiar buzzing noise filled the air. 

There was no one else in the shop and my turn in the barber’s chair was getting closer by the minute. I had almost decided against my plan when a couple of Second Form boys from my school came in. They were both wearing long trousers and the fact I was three years older than either of them didn’t prevent one of the boys from pointing at me and laughing: 

“Look… it’s shorty short-shorts!” he said. 

The other boy piped up: “Have you come for a nice shorty haircut?” 

I sneered and mumbled, “Very funny…” but that decided me. I was going to ask Mr Fenner not to cut my hair so short. “No I haven’t!” I blurted out. 

Mr Fenner was absorbed in his work and, what with the noise of the clippers, didn’t hear this exchange and just nodded to the boys as he had done to me when I entered his shop. 

One of the boys leaned over to the other and, making sure I could hear, ‘whispered’ to his friend: “Mummy likes girly-legs like to have a nice shorty-haircut… bet you he asks for a special shorty-haircut…” 

I tried to ignore the two boys but I knew they could see the successful result of their teasing by the colour of my face which flushed redder by the second. 

Presently Mr Fenner finished his customer’s haircut. He brushed him down. The haircut was paid for and it was my turn in the barber’s chair. 

“What’s it to be today, Robert?” Mr Fenner asked cheerfully, “About time for your summer haircut isn’t it? I know your mum likes to see your hair kept nice and short for summer…” 

It was now or never. 

“Please, sir… err, Mr Fenner, just a light trim today please… not, err not a summer haircut, please,” then in an effort to justify my request I simply intensified my embarrassment by adding, “I’m fifteen now…” 

“Fifteen, eh?” Mr Fenner said with a smile, “Still in short trousers, though I see, Robert…” 

“Err, yes…” I admitted sheepishly. 

The two twelve year old Second Formers were enjoying my obvious discomfort immensely and giggled to themselves as I took my seat in the barber’s chair. 

“Now you’re fifteen, I imagine mum thinks you’re old enough to make your own mind up, eh Robert? Won’t be long before she buys you some proper long trousers I should think…” 

I was squirming with intense embarrassment, knowing that the two boys were listening to every word that was being said. Even so I had to make it worse for myself by telling Mr Fenner that mum had already bought me some longs for school. 

“Really?” he said, “When did mum buy them for you, Robert? I’m surprised you’re not wearing them…” 

“Umm… mum bought me a pair of longs for my fifteenth birthday,” I could hear how pathetic this sounded as I was saying it, but since I was daft enough to mention my so far unworn long trousers, I suppose I deserved the sneers from the two Second Form boys who I could now clearly see reflected in the mirror. 

“Your fifteenth birthday, eh… a present, eh Robert?” Mr Fenner continued and in the process making me more embarrassed by the second. “Then why aren’t you wearing your long trousers, Robert. If I were your age… if I was fifteen and my mum had just bought me some longs, I think I’d be wearing them all the time…” 

“Um, they’re for school… they’re school longs…” I interrupted, digging myself even deeper into a hole. From behind me I could hear the boys sniggering. 

“School longs, eh Robert…” Mr Fenner said as he reached for an apron. 

“Yes, sir… um, Mr Fenner…” 

At this I swear I saw Mr Fenner lean over his shoulder and wink at the two boys who hand their hands to their mouths and were now giggling while they listened to my interrogation. 

“So your mum doesn’t let you wear your new longs to school yet, Robert?” 

“No, Mr Fenner…” 

“I wonder why that is, Robert… especially when lots of other boys wear longs to school these days…” Mr Fenner said and I’m sure I saw him wink again in the direction of the seated boys. 

The giggling grew louder as Mr Fenner teased me. I knew he was only pulling my leg and that it was all good natured fun as far as the barber was concerned, but it was acutely embarrassing for me nonetheless. 

I tried to get my own back, or at least salvage some of my self-esteem. “I don’t mind really. And anyway, mum says it’s healthier for boys to wear short trousers…” I tried to sound unconcerned, “She says boys go into longs far too early…” 

“Well, I’m sure mum knows best…” Mr Fenner said and then turned to the two boys sat waiting behind me, “Isn’t that right boys?” In the mirror I saw him give another big wink at which the boys giggled uncontrollably. 

“Fifteen…” Mr Fenner repeated as he drew the apron over me. He pulled it tight around my neck and tucked it neatly into my shirt collar. My bare knees stuck out from under the apron. My heart was thumping. I was still looking at the reflection in the mirror of the two boys sat behind me. One of them caught my eye and poked out his tongue. I scowled. 

“Right then,” Mr Fenner said as he pulled a few stands of my hair to judge its length, “Just a light trim, is it?” 

My mouth was dry, but I managed to croak, “Yes, sir…Yes please…” 

I won’t go into details but it’s sufficient to say that even my ‘light trim’ left my hair shorter than either of the two boys who sat waiting their turns would ever have their own hair cut at Mr Fenner’s. 

However, mine was not the summer haircut mum had sent me to have. 

As I was about to leave another customer came into Mr Fenner’s shop. The man was in a hurry. He had a train to catch. He turned to the two Second Form boys; would they mind ever so if he jumped the queue? The boys were in no hurry. They had enjoyed my teasing and were in no rush to get home and start their homework. I thought nothing of this. All I was interested in was getting out of the barber’s shop. 

Nevertheless, even as I paid up; even as I left the shop; even as I swung myself onto my bike and pedalled home, I knew that I had made a dreadful mistake. 

When I arrived home it didn’t take me long to find out if I was right or not. 

Mum went spare. 

What did I think I was doing coming home without having my hair cut properly? Wasn’t I old enough to know how Mr Fenner was to cut my hair? Couldn’t I be trusted to even do something as simple as to go to the barber’s? Did I do it deliberately? Did I do it on purpose? 

It went on… and on… and on. My pathetic excuses and apologies cut no ice whatsoever. I even tried to plead that I was old enough to have my hair a little longer… That was a big mistake! 

“Old enough!” Mum exploded, “Old enough…!”
 
At this she stepped forward and before I realised what was happening mum had me by the ear and pulled me over to the hall mirror to look at myself; to confront my disobedience. I begged, pleaded and snivelled my apologies, telling mum that I’d never do it again. 

“Look at yourself, Robert… look at yourself. Is that the haircut you were to ask Mr Fenner for?” 

“No, mum…” 

“Did you think it was clever…?” 

“No, mum… Please, mum… I’m sorry, mum…” 

“If you think you’re old enough to disobey your mother…” 

“I’m sorry, mum… Please… I’m sorry…” 

“… I should think you are sorry…” 

By now my face was wet with the tears that were running down my face. I was quite shameless in begging my forgiveness. But mum wasn’t ready to forgive me just yet. Before I could be forgiven I had to prove that I could do as I was told. 

“Robert, you are to go back to Mr Fenner and apologise to him,” Mum ordered, “You are to politely ask Mr Fenner to give you your proper ‘summer’ haircut…” 

“… but, mum…” I sniffled. 

“Don’t interrupt, Robert… You are to go back to Mr Fenner and tell him that you have been very naughty and that you have been sent back to ask for a proper summer haircut. Tell him that mummy was very upset with you and she should have known better than to trust you to do as you were told. Do you understand, Robert?” 

There was no escape. “Yes, mum,” I replied meekly. 

“You will pay Mr Fenner out of your pocket-money…” 

“Yes, mum…” 

“… and you will explain to him that your behaviour has resulted in you having early bedtimes for the next week.” 

“Oh, but mum…” 

“Robert…” mum said in her ‘warning’ voice. 

“Yes, mum…” 

“Now upstairs and wash your face, then it’s straight back to Mr Fenner. I shall follow along shortly to make sure you behave yourself this time.” 

There was a gentler tone to mum’s voice that signalled her patience with me was restored. As I rushed upstairs to wash my tear-stained face I heard her as she said to herself, “Boys!” in that exasperated tone of voice that grown-ups use. I knew I had disappointed her and I was keen to make up for my behaviour. 

Back on my bike I pedalled like fury, not that I was keen to ask Mr Fenner to cut my hair again; I just wanted to get it over and done with and to get back into mum’s good books. I had lost track of time somewhat and as I got off my bike and looked into the barber’s I was horrified to see the two Second Formers still sat waiting! My knees almost gave way. I couldn’t go into the shop and ask Mr Fenner for another haircut… a proper summer haircut, with those two boys still there to witness my embarrassment. I knew what Second Formers were like. I knew these two would ensure the whole school knew of my humiliation. Clearly I hadn’t been as long as I thought. The man who had been in a hurry to catch his train was still in the barber’s chair. Mr Fenner was busily brushing the man’s neck as he removed the apron. The boys were next. 

What should I do? I couldn’t wait until the boys had their haircuts. Mum would be along well before they were finished with, so my simply disappearing for a while was out of the question. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if mum came to the shop and I wasn’t there. It was a nightmare. 

The bell tinkled as Mr Fenner’s customer pulled the door open. He saw me standing nervously outside and held the door open for me. The boys looked at me. Mr Fenner looked at me. The man was looking at me. 

“Oh, it is you again!” he said cheerfully, “I wasn’t sure, but when I saw your short trousers, I thought you must have been the boy I saw earlier.” He turned to Mr Fenner and added, “You don’t see many older boys wearing short trousers with their school uniform these days… not like in our day, eh Mr Fenner?” 

“True enough, Mr Thomas… true enough,” Mr Fenner answered.
 
Mr Thomas asked me how old I was. “Fifteen, sir…” I replied. 

“Fifteen… well I must say it’s nice to see an older boy who’s not afraid to wear short trousers to school. Good for you!” Mr Thomas said and his praise quite perked me up. I hadn’t thought that some people might actually like to see a fifteen year old boy in short trousers. 

I stepped into the shop and Mr Thomas left to catch his train. I could see the two Second Formers looking at me were on tenterhooks. Mr Fenner’s expression was one of puzzlement. 

There was nothing for it; I had to say something. “Please, sir… err, Mr Fenner… mum… err, mum…” 

The boys were sniggering fit to burst. Mr Fenner waited. 

“Mum says that I have to ask you to please give me my proper summer haircut…” 

The boys burst out laughing and rolled about on the bench. Mr Fenner ‘shushed’ them but they were hysterical, barely able to say to each other, “Told you so… told you so…” 

“Boys! Will you be quiet for a moment and let Robert speak?” 

“Mum says I’m to say ‘sorry’ and ask you to please cut my hair again…” 

I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I was fifteen. This was the most humiliating thing I had ever done. Wearing short trousers to school and hearing the taunts of younger boys who were already in longs was as nothing to the shame I felt standing in front of Mr Fenner and explaining why I had come back to his shop. And on top of that there were two witnesses, the Second Form boys to guarantee my disgrace would be common knowledge at school. 

“I’m not sure that I understand you, Robert…” Mr Fenner said, “I gave you the haircut you asked me to give you. I hope you don’t think…” 

I hung my head. “Please, Mr Fenner…” I knew what I had to say… what mum had told me to say. “Please, Mr Fenner… I’ve… I’ve been… naughty and I should have asked you to give me my summer haircut…” 

“… just as I said…” Mr Fenner said in a kindly voice, reminding me of our earlier conversation. 

“… just as you said, Mr Fenner. Mum says I’m to pay for my summer haircut out of my pocket-money…” 

“Hmm…” Mr Fenner said, “You have been and got yourself into a spot of trouble, haven’t you, Robert? Still no harm done…” 

That’s what he thinks, I thought as I contemplated news of my humiliation spreading like wild-fire around the school as I knew it would. I thought of the taunts and teasing when everyone learnt of my disgrace. But all I could say was, “Yes, Mr Fenner…” 

“Right then, Robert, we’d better get you sorted out. Strictly speaking it’s the turn of these two boys next, but if you’d get yourself back into the chair it won’t take me long to give you your proper summer haircut…” Mr Fenner turned to the boys who were still gloating at my misfortune, “What do you say boys? Will you let Robert go first? It’ll only take me a couple of minutes…” 

After a quick consultation the boys magnanimously agreed to let me go first. I knew it wasn’t any kindness on their part; they just wanted to have the added satisfaction of seeing me receive my ‘shorty’ summer haircut, the haircut they had teased me about when they first came into the shop and saw me waiting my turn in the barber’s chair. 

So, for the second time that day, I felt the apron being drawn around me as Mr Fenner tucked it tightly into the collar of my school shirt. I felt his big hand on my head as he positioned me for the start of my proper summer haircut. I stayed quiet and let him get on with his work. After shortening even further what little hair I had left after the first cut, Mr Fenner pushed my head forward until my chin was squashed onto my chest. It was time for the dreaded clippers. 

Even though I couldn’t see them I knew which clippers Mr Fenner had selected. With the words, “Now keep your head nice and still, Robert…” Mr Fenner flicked the switch and I heard the clippers buzz and felt its cold metal on the nape of my neck. When I had sat in the chair earlier Mr Fenner had used his standard clippers, but now for my summer haircut he was using the finest set. These clippers I knew from experience would leave me perfectly smooth as far up the back of my neck as Mr Fenner saw fit for a boy’s summer haircut. 

I could just about hear gasps of astonishments accompanied by titters of excitement from the two Second Formers as they watched me getting my haircut. Then I felt Mr Fenner’s hand on the crown of my head as he moved round and pushed my head to one side. Now I felt the clippers at the back of my ears. Mr Fenner brought them up and round my ear to complete one ‘side’ of my summer ‘short-back-and-sides’. 

Mr Fenner was quite right, it didn’t take him long to finish my summer haircut and before I knew it he was rubbing in a big dollop of hair-cream. Then my hair was combed and given a severe side-parting. Finally Mr Fenner gave my little fringe the juvenile cow-lick my summer haircut style demanded. In the mirror I saw myself reflected. With my bare knees poking out from the hem of the apron and my shorter-than-ever summer haircut I looked to be about eleven years old… younger than the two boys still waiting their turns in Mr Fenner’s chair. 

With a flourish Mr Fenner drew the apron off me: “There we are, Robert… I think your mum will be pleased with you now…” 

“Yes…” I said and leaned forward. I felt the back of my neck just as Mr Fenner held up a mirror behind me so that I could see the back of my head. I was shocked to see quite how thorough Mr Fenner had been; my summer haircut was by far the most severe he had ever given me. At that moment I swore to myself that I’d never again be so stupid as to think I could get away with anything as I’d tried to do with my summer haircut. 

I had just managed to blurt out, “Thank you, Mr Fenner…” when in walked mum. 

“That’s much better, Robert,” she said, “Much better…”

Mum turned to Mr Fenner and thanked him: “Robert was such a naughty boy. I’m so sorry for all the trouble he’s caused you Mr Fenner…” 

“Robert has apologised and told me he’s to pay for his second visit out of his pocket money…” 

“Yes, that’s right, Mr Fenner…” then mum turned to me and asked, “… and have you told Mr Fenner everything, Robert?” 

I knew what mum meant and my mouth fell open. Mr Fenner looked puzzled. The two Second Formers couldn’t contain themselves; they could see from my expression there was further fun to be had at my expense. 

“Please, mum…” 

“Robert… Have you told Mr Fenner what I said you were to tell him?” 

No, mum… I… not, not yet, mum…” 

“Then don’t you think you’d better do so now, Robert?” 

“Yes, mum…” 

“What do you have to tell Mr Fenner?” 

I glanced up at Mr Fenner who still looked puzzled, but I couldn’t look at him while I said what I had to say, so I fixed my gaze on the barber’s chair. Then I realised that was rude, so I looked back at him again. Even the boys were quiet now as they waited to hear what I had to say. 

“Please, Mr Fenner…” I started, “Because I was naughty and didn’t ask you to give me a summer haircut… I’ve…” I couldn’t go any further, I was so ashamed. 

“Come on, Robert,” Mr Fenner said in a kindly voice, “best get it over with and tell me what you have to say.” 

I was almost in tears for the second time that day as I finally managed to tell Mr Fenner what my punishment for my disobedience was to be. 

“Early bedtimes eh, Robert?” Mr Fenner said and shook his head. 

The two boys were beside themselves with laughter… until mum turned to face them and caught them with their tongues poking out at me. Mum’s lips were pursed and from experience I knew this meant trouble. The boys must have understood this too, because when they saw the look on her face they both fell silent. 

“You boys may think it’s funny that Robert has been disobedient, but I doubt very much if your mothers would find it very amusing if they were told you were being bad-mannered and rude while you were waiting for your haircuts… What do you think Mr Fenner?” 

“I would think their mums would be most upset if they were told their boys were up to mischief in my shop,” Mr Fenner said sternly, “Hadn’t you better apologise to Robert’s mum, boys?” 

The Second Formers were clearly shocked at the thought of their mums finding out they had been accused of being disruptive at Mr Fenner’s. Each of them in turn apologised and said they were sorry to mum. They were duly forgiven. 

As the first boy finally took his seat in the barber’s chair, I heard him say to Mr Fenner: “Please, sir… please, not as short… please, don’t cut my hair as short as Robert’s, sir…” 

Mr Fenner simply smiled and drew the apron over the boy, then said: “Perhaps not today, but if I were you I’d stay on the right side of Robert’s mum… You know what mum’s are like when they get together, she might well recommend an immediate ‘summer’ haircut for both you boys…” 

The boys were suitably shaken and looked over to see whether mum had heard Mr Fenner’s comments. It was difficult to tell, because at that moment she jerked the door open and said to me: 

“Come along, Robert, it’s time we got you home… and then it’s straight upstairs and into your pyjamas.” 

“Yes, mum…”