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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Has he really gone this time? One of the last of south-west London's old-style barbers seems to have shut up shop

Cycling along Landor Road towards Brixton, I see what I have dreading for years. I see that the best barber's shop in south London has finally closed, and I am so sad. I swear I will never have a haircut again.

For about the last three years Andy has been threatening to retire, and then always staying on another few months….but now it seems the era of Andy's in Landor Road is actually finished.


What follows is a blog entry I wrote six months ago, expecting the shop to close that week:

 Get an education with your haircut in Landor Road

It's going to be another ending of another era, and this one is taking its time. Andy is the best mens' haird-cutter in south London, bar none. His little shop on Landor Road, halfway between Brixton and Clapham North, is one of those bright lights on any map of London's true centres of community.

Here for the last 30 years or so Andy has been cutting the hair of locals of all races, all ages, all conditions - although, by virtue of his trade, the vast majority of his customers are male. I started going there around ten years ago when my then favourite, Chris and Tony's in Northcote Road - closed down as yuppification swept up that street like wildfire.

Now people wil be paying five times as much to get their hair cut in  fake "retro" surroundings.

There was nothing fake and everything genuinely and blessedly retro about Andy's and Chris And Tony's - just the names tell you a bit.

Anyway, as for Andy, he's now 67  and for the past two or three years has been planning to retire. In fact he should have retired four or five times over the past few months, but each time something seems to happen to the process of handing over the lease to his business. It's all much too complicated to go into here, but he always tells me about his place in Cyprus, the olive groves and vegetable plots, the grapes and other fruit, and then about his London allotment somewhere near Crystal Palace.

It seems there's always a story to every visit to Andy's. Some days it's just like a soap opera: a guy comes in with information on where to buy new wing mirrors for Andy's 1980s Merc, and a lengthy and heated discussion ensues, ending with Andy handing over a wad of cash to this guy.

Sometimes itinerant hairdressers wander in and ask if there's any work going. One guy who came in a few months back, a Kurd, he said, was particularly insistent. His English was  not  perfect but he said he had plenty of experience and had worked for many barbers around London.

"How many years?" Asks Andy.

"One year"

"Come back in five years", says Andy, adding, "It takes ten in all but I'll train you for the  last five."

The Kurd looks crestfallen and again asks for work, and Andy then  hands him the scissors, points to the thinning hair on my scalp, and says, "Show me what you can do".

The nice young Kurd goes at my horrible  greying hair with vigour. Almost immediately, Andy stops him.

"Not like that, no, you have to learn, it takes time". He then gives him the names and phone numbers of a couple of other local hairdressers who might employ him, and he's on his way.

Today, I go to Andy's for the first time in much too long. I always expect to see the shop shut and boarded up, but it's open and busy. And for the first time since I've been going there's a second hairdresser.

"My apprentice will start you off, number 3 on the sides, number 2 to set the line….if that's ok."

He gets to the work with the clippers. Almost immediately Andy stops him, takes the clippers, and shows him how it should be done - "Look, like this, rising through the hair as you go up, like a plane taking off, up, lift, lift!"

He tries again, and again Andy stops him. Then he holds his wrist and helps him lift the buzzing clippers at just the right angle.

"It should be natural, it will come to you in time, but only with lots of practice. I took me a year or two to get that right".

The next time I go, the young Kurd greets me, seats me, and sets to work with full confidence.  He even begins chatting, just like Andy did, the usual stuff.

The shop is full of very talkative men, one  guy, maybe 60ish, with quite a posh voice, is trying to explain the theories of James Frazer's The Golden Bough, which he says he has just read. The guy is wearing a long black leather coat which looks a bit too big on him. But he's articulate, talking faster and louder.

At first he and Andy were joking , but soon Andy just goes quiet and lets this guy carry on with what is becoming a rant. I realise he's probably one of the many regular customers Andy has who are having treatment at the hospital over the road. I've seen some men in here more or less in their hospital pyjamas.

Quite a few of Andy's customers seems to get their hair done for a big discount, or for goods in kind. There's a guy who helps keep Andy's ageing Mercedes on the road, another who cleans his windows. Sometimes people have only a couple of quid on them, and Andy lets them off - perhaps til next time - the other six quid. Yes, the standard charge, this year went up to an outrageous £8. Cost of living.
This is one of London's best men's hairdresser, in zone 2. A barber's shop in London SW9, in 2015, a perfect haircut  for the price of two coffees and a bun.

That was written early this year - and now he really has  gone. 

Well, no, it did still shock me to see the shop locked and with for rent signs in the windows. It seems the owners wants to rent it to another hairdressers, but you can be sure it will a very different sort of place.
That generation of Greek and Turkish and Italian hairdressers who came to England, many of them in the 1950s and 60s, is dying out.

Last time I went there Andy said he might still work for a bit in another shop, owned by a relative, in Tooting. I must go there - because there's no-one else in this city who I'd trust to cut my hair. I will report back. 


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