Tom Sharpe: A Visit to the Barber

Today it is a humour story. Well, a sort of humour story because as you read it you may not guffaw like you do while reading a PGW story.

I found it in the book The Ultimate Humour Book (Chancellor Press, 1988) that I bought at a book fair. I have read this story three or four times.

A young man goes to a barber’s shop. He doesn’t really need a haircut but then he needs to buy something that was available only in hairdressing salons. After the haircut ritual (“Just a trim, please,”) he asks for what he wants but alas the barber says that the shop owner is a conservative person and doesn’t stock the said product.

The young man ambles into another barber’s shop and there too settling in the chair demands “just a trim”,  despite protestations from the hairstylist that it seemed that he had had a haircut only a while ago.

A chatter ensues, a chatter that barbers are given to make as they ply their comb and scissors. It is about what thoughts the customers might be having in their heads as he works on their hair.

What thoughts, peculiar thoughts (if you like), did the young man have?

Luckily this old story is available online:

http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=df93dsvv_12fvbmcpcn

(With thanks to T. S. Ganesh for suggesting a better link than the one I provided in an earlier version of this post)

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8 Responses to Tom Sharpe: A Visit to the Barber

  1. Ganesh says:

    Thanks for introducing me to the works of Tom Sharpe.

    I went through the ‘clipped’ story available in Google Books. However, I couldn’t really spot the humour at first. My curiosity sufficiently aroused, I started Googling around for a copy of ‘Porterhouse Blue’ from which this story is excerpted, and was able to locate it.

    To tell the truth, the actual humour is in the pages that have been left out of the Google Books entry! I think I now need to pick up one of Tom Sharpe’s works from the local library 🙂

    For the really curious, the whole story is available at this location:

    http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=df93dsvv_12fvbmcpcn

  2. Shuchi says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. I agree that it is not the LOL type, but amusing still. Humour is a difficult genre to write in, I think. If we take say, tragedy or romance – these are fairly universal emotions, and so safer subjects for the writer. Humour is tricky – for one who finds it funny, three others don’t.

    Two things the story reminded me of, stuff from film/TV:
    – ‘Everybody Says I’m Fine’, a movie in which the barber can hear the thoughts inside people’s minds
    – The episode from ‘Friends’ in which Rachel is having a lunch interview for a new job and finds her current manager on the next table

    Ganesh: I don’t see the difference between the Google Books entry and the location you’ve linked to?

    • cgrishikesh says:

      Just to clarify, it is possible that there was a large white space between paras in the Google Books entry and Ganesh did not scroll down to take in the rest of the story.
      In any case, the link that he gave and which I have now included in my original post is a far better one.

    • Ganesh says:

      I am not sure whether this is dependent on the IP of the computer accessing the Google Books entry, but I get the messages ‘Pages 61-62 are not part of this book preview’ from the earlier link.

      • Shuchi says:

        That was my hunch. It seems Google book preview dynamically hides pages. I could read the whole story there, for me pages 59-60 were not part of the preview.

  3. cgrishikesh says:

    This is an afterword and is to be perused only after reading the story in the main post.

    One must remember that those were the days when sex was not a subject that was too openly discussed and when contraceptives were not so freely available: nowadays ads for contraceptives are so ubiquitous and so blatantly suggestive. And the products are displayed at the cash counter in chain stores so that while paying for such consumables like bread and butter, one may deliberately and with mischievous intent aforethought casually pick up a packet of contraceptives from the shelf and throw it into the basket for the woman clerk to swipe it very mechanically and unemotionally in the cash register.

    The predicament of the young man in not being able to get a commodity that he so passionately wants is by no means exaggerated and I bet it was relevant in India until recently.

    And I also think that if contraceptives are available in dispensers at public places in some countries now, it’s more because of the fear of AIDS than any liberal wave.

    Years ago when I read “A Visit to Barber” I got an idea for a story in Tamil: the dilemma of a newly married man in a joint family with limited privacy trying to dispose of a used contraceptive: he goes here and there and meets impediments in one form or the other.

    I have not done any research to find out why contraceptives were sold in barber’s shops in foreign countries. Were they disreputable places? Or just because they were frequented only by men? In India some decades ago it was in barber’s shops that pinup calendars were hung in a big lineup; today they are everywhere.

  4. Intrinsic humour running through the pathetic situation!!! Now how the times have changed!!!

  5. An afterthought: I can never forget an article in a popular vernacular weekly by a ‘famous’ cricketer( I shouldn’t mention the name, I suppose) where he had boasted about how he and his wife placed condoms in the shelf of their teenage son out of their care and affection for him! I seethe in rage to this minute at such shameless, callous mindset!!!

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