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Brendan O’Connor on lockdown haircuts: ‘I sometimes imagine I feel her anger coming through the razor’

Brendan O'Connor


Barber Alan Kelly in the Regent Barber shop in Dublin. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Barber Alan Kelly in the Regent Barber shop in Dublin. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Barber Alan Kelly in the Regent Barber shop in Dublin. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

I was joshing around with my wife about the difference between getting a professional haircut and getting a haircut from your wife. “An actual hairdresser doesn’t get pissed off with you when you ask them to cut it,” she pointed out. And that was probably the nub of it.

As much as we try to cover it up with fake bonhomie, the haircut is a tense experience for all concerned. When the children see the electric razor coming out, they scarper in the manner of the residents of a town in the Old West when a well-known gunfighter arrives on his horse.

For my wife, there is of course a deep pain underlying the hairdressing, a cruel irony if you will. Here she is cutting my hair when she needs a hairdo far more than I do, but obviously there’s nothing I can do for her. So she has to cut mine, and then admire it.

I sometimes imagine I feel her anger coming through the razor.

It doesn’t help that I need to give ongoing instructions and a running critique of her hair-cutting. It’s probably even more annoying when I go off and have a proper look at it in the bathroom and then come back with a few specific tweaks.

I don’t know that it is any consolation to her that she is getting quite good at it. Come to think of it, that might be making it worse for her, that she has this talent but is powerless to help herself with it.

And she is good. I regularly have to look people in the eye as they passive aggressively ask me about my hair, and tell them firmly that, yes, my wife did do it.

In fairness, she’s been very reasonable. Another woman might have been pushed over the e dge when I bought the flat-topper from Amazon.

A flat-topper, in case you don’t know, is an old-school piece of barbering equipment, a large comb that helps to guide the razor. It sounds innocuous enough, until you realise that there is a spirit level on it.

You can see how getting someone something with a spirit level on it might send the wrong message about their skill levels. I hasten to add that I do not require her to use the spirit level.

One day, I feel we will get over all this, but it might take some time.

There are going to be other things to get over too. For example, we are both haunted by something that happened a while back, in deep lockdown.

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An advertising jingle came on the radio and my wife said: “There’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you.”

For some reason, I said: “Is it that they’ve changed the Home Instead Senior Care jingle?”

And she said: “Oh my God. Yes it is.”

Just to be clear, the jingle on the radio that prompted this exchange was not actually the Home Instead jingle.

It’s fair to say the mystique, such as it was, is gone from our relationship.

There are disturbing layers to this incident. The background to it is bad enough, that my wife and I have become so dulled by this pandemic that we both noticed Home Instead had changed their jingle.

Secondly, I had obviously assumed she had noticed it too. Thirdly, I also assumed that she felt this was worthy of mention. And fourthly, she did indeed think it was worthy of mention.

If you want a fifth disturbing thing, it is that we both had the same opinion on the development. We wondered why they needed to change a perfectly good jingle that was clearly working.

I think we both took the incident as a warning sign. We needed some time apart. We needed to reassert our respective individuality. We needed more going on in our lives.

Since then we’ve tried to develop our own separate existences, which, in the current circumstances, means sometimes watching different TV shows and going for walks with other people.

I tried to break out the other day by watching the latest season of Line of Duty.

Everyone had been talking about it, so I thought I should get in on it, not to be left out. Now, it could be because I’ve never watched Line of Duty before, and also because I had a few drinks on board, but I hadn’t a clue what was going on.

My wife is a Line of Duty person, so I asked her if this was normal. She was a bit affronted that I had gone off and watched Line of Duty without saying a word to her. She hasn’t even watched the latest season herself.

In the end, we made up and agreed we will watch it together, and I will even watch the first episode again, with her, fully sober this time, and she will explain to me who’s who and what’s going on.

This pandemic better end soon. For us, it’s personal.

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