14 April, 2006

Bank holiday

"When I first came to this country," the bloke cutting my hair announced, "nowhere was open on a day like this. I couldn't even buy a newspaper. Everywhere was shut. Now what have you got? Shops open everywhere. It is just like a normal day. I thought it was supposed to be a holiday."

I half-concurred with what he was saying, although our conversation, such as it was, wouldn't even have been taking place were it not for the fact that he was open today, and was therefore contradicting his own argument.

"Of course, I had to open today," he went on, as if reading my thoughts. "I like to spread my work through the week, you see? I could have shut today, but what would I have done? Sat at home, maybe do something in the garden. And then I would come back in tomorrow and I would be really busy. So I choose to open today. Luckily, it it is not that busy. Which is just as well as I am by myself."

I had wondered where his colleague was, and was just about to remark as to his whereabouts when the man cut in again. "The other person, he has gone to a funeral and has been away two weeks. I have had someone in to cover, who has been very good, but people don't like change, you know? They see a different person there, and they go away again."

"Some people are very precious about their hair," I replied, trying to sound light-hearted but dismissive at the same time, as if to emphasise that I was certainly not one of those people. "Oh yes, and wouldn't you know it," he declared. "All these mirrors I have in here, they help me do my work, but these people come in and they look in these mirrors and they think I am making them bald. They don't realise how hair grows. It grows out of the crown of the head. Instead these six-year-old boys come in and say they are going bald."

Outside it was pouring with rain and nobody else showed any inkling of dropping by. I was the only customer on the premises. I didn't mind, though, because at least it meant there was nobody else watching me watching them watching me, or more specifically, watching me watching them watching my hair - a very uncomfortable scenario and one about which I always get shamelessly coy. Instead it was just me and him and his tools and his conversation.

"When I first started, it was when Margaret Thatcher was here, you know, and I remember when not only was everywhere shut on a bank holiday, but everywhere was shut on a Sunday too." I commented I'd heard something on the radio this morning about how the present Government had just finished a consultation on whether to extend Sunday trading even more. "I heard that too!" he exclaimed. "Perhaps we were listening to the same thing. But you know, it is only happening because people think they have more money in their pockets. They don't. They just don't plan and save and pay their taxes and use common sense, and they think they have plenty of money but it is not their own."

A short while later we parted. I exited less £9, less some of my hair, and slightly less reticent about having conversations with complete strangers. Although so far that has been my only conversation of the entire day. Such is the nature of the British bank holiday.


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