“Just Men”

I’ll be moving offices in a couple of months. We’re only going up the road, and it’s mostly a good thing because we’ll be much closer to the station, so that’s a few precious minutes shaved off my commute, but there are still a few things I’ll miss about the current location. One such thing is my monthly trip down to see Dennis, the barber just around the corner.

At the moment our office is a good ten minutes along Tooley Street away from London Bridge, at about the point where the high-rise office buildings housing the overspill from the city, and the plush waterfront apartments of Shad Thames, give way to the grim council housing of Bermondsey. Entering the local barbershop (the wonderfully titled “Just Men”), which sits uneasily between these two areas, always feels a bit like stepping back in time, into a moderately intimidating world of gruff South East Londoners (this a place where I actually once heard someone unironically using the phrase “apples and pears”). It’s a messy, traditional barbers with a fading poster celebrating Millwall’s 2001 Division Two championship on the wall, run by an affable chap of Southern European origin with a penchant for referring to those he dislikes (of whom you will soon discover if you spend any length of time in his shop there are many) as “bastards”.

Toni and Guy, this ain’t.

The shop is often filled with random locals who aren’t even waiting for a cut at all, many of whom work as drivers at the cab office next door, who’ll pop in and out while they wait for a fare, continuing the conversations they were having hours ago as they do so (“…he don’t want to know us, now, Den, does he? Now he’s got his black cab license…”), and helping themselves to his kettle to make their cups of coffee. On one memorable occasion, I sat in the chair listening to a delightful chap discussing how he’d narrowly escaped a driving ban on a technicality despite being several times over the limit, during which, in the best The Bill style, he referred to his solicitor as “his brief”.

In fact, the conversation you’ll inevitably have while having your hair cut by Dennis is a bit like the one you might find yourself sucked into with a particularly chatty cab driver, only with a lot more swearing. And I, for one, feel rather cautious about disagreeing with the man, what with him having a pair of scissors just a centimetre or so away from my brain, and all. I usually spend most of my time in the chair nodding nervously (although not too vigorously, obviously, for fear of losing an ear, or something).

The first half of my most recent haircut centred on–and I must have missed this shocking scandal of our times–the rampant level of match fixing in snooker (this provoked by the casual question from the guy before me as to why the snooker wasn’t on the telly). Apparently there’s no point in watching it not because televised snooker isn’t exactly the most enthralling of spectator sports, but because “the bastards are always throwing their games”.

After discussing the cheating levels in several major sports, we sometimes ended up on the subject of Celebrity Big Brother. And Den certainly does not approve of Mr Barrymore, I can tell you, (although he had nothing but praise for fellow local Jade Goodie, who he’s met several times, apparently, and who he considers to have done very well for herself).

But sadly, that might well have been one of my last trips, and my haircuts, and lunchtimes, will be all the duller for it.