When I first came to Istanbul I became acutely ill. My body found it impossible to breathe and my mind went crazy thinking that I would die. Mrs. Bray had a new job and was travelling the length and breadth of Turkey, so it fell to my beloved mother-in-law to take me to hospitals and elsewhere to see doctors.
One day, after getting a chest x-ray she took me to see our newly appointed G.P. He didn’t let on at the time that the hospital had given me the wrong x-ray, but put me in an oxygen mask for a few minutes and prescribed fourteen items of medication including two inhalers. On the way home my mother in law took me to a barber for remodelling.
At first glance the salon seemed like those I knew whilst growing up in England. There was a kind of dentist’s chair, and a sink, a water geyser, combs in a dish of disinfectant, scissors and clippers.
My mother in law gave some orders in Turkish and left to drink coffee with her friend who owns the famous marzipan shop in Bebek.
I’m not usually nervous about having a haircut because as a youth my father discovered a shell shocked alcoholic who charged sixpence less than the local tariff. It didn’t really matter that he went there because by this time Dad had no hair, but I had plenty and as my testicles had dropped I also cared what it looked like.
That old barber would shake and twitch, which wasn’t so bad when he had the scissors in his hand but could be disconcerting when he brandished a cut-throat razor with which he insisted on trimming bits from the sideburns and back of the neck.
After him, any kind of haircut was comparative bliss, or so I thought.
But there in Bebek, over a decade ago, when I looked about the salon I found the barber squatting in a corner by an electric kettle on the floor. I thought he would be about to make tea, but soon discovered that the water was to wash my hair.
In England it’s unusual to have one’s hair washed prior to a cut, at least for men, and as I was struggling to make it clear that it was a haircut I required and not a shave, help arrived in the shape of an ancient looking man with dyed black hair dressed in grey flannel trousers and a navy blue blazer. The pocket sported some kind of heraldic device, which gave away the fact that he was out to make an impression.
“I was educated at Robert College”, he announced. Robert College was one of the first independent schools in Istanbul, founded by an American and lessons there were given in English.
After some discussion my new friend explained that my hair would be washed, and my scalp massaged, before being cut, Later I was to discover that hair would be removed from my nostrils and ears by a traditional method.
The barber and his customer chatted together as the hair was cut. Then when all seemed to have been finished he suddenly produced a length of button thread from his pocket. He deftly wound this around a miniscule hair in my ear and twanged it as if it was a string on a lyre. The pain was excruciating – “Ow!” I yelled involuntarily.
My cry startled the waiting customer who was seated in a chair behind me, and he stood up with a start. To my horror an automatic pistol dropped from his trouser band and dropped with a load crack on the tiled floor. He quickly swept it up and stuffed it back under his belt before asking me what was wrong.
“Oh”, I retorted, “I just wasn’t expecting that”. Several twangs later I left the shop feeling considerably worse than when I entered it.
After this experience there followed a few years of relative calm because I discovered the man who took care of workers who, at the time were digging up the streets of Besiktaş to renew the sewers. I would wait with them dressed in a business suit, they in muddy overhauls and brown Wellington boots. Outside everything was mud, like Deadwood in 1870s, but except for the lack of ‘Tit-Bits Magazine‘ which I have only ever seen or read in several of the barber’s shops in my home town, everything seemed quite normal.
Then one day after we moved to Turunç the day came when my ‘barnet’ needed a trim. The whole experience was quite amazing. It started with a shampoo, continued with a scalp massage, evolved into a, practically, shaven head, and culminated with my ears being set alight with methylated spirit before my chair was plugged into the mains and my bottom vibrated in a rather disturbing manner.
All these items were then totted up like l’addition at a restaurant and I ended up phoning Mrs. Bray to bring more funds because I was carrying around ten lira, the cost of my previous barber, plus tip, in Istanbul.
Anxious to avoid a repeat of this experience I went several months without getting my hair cut, and then one day in Marmaris I was accosted by an elderly looking man in the street who asked if I required a haircut.
It was a hot day, and a cut was long overdue. The man looked reassuringly traditional, and so even at the risk of having my nose plucked, or my ears set alight, I decided to risk it.
Once in the salon, however, everything changed. The old man sat me in a chair, and pointed to a photograph of a younger man who looked a little like Jason King of Department S.
“It’s me”, he said as somehow he deftly removed my shirt, in the manner of someone removing a tablecloth but leaving all the place settings on the table. “We are all men together here!”
With that he handed me over to his assistant, a young man of no more than twenty years who had half of his head shaved, and the other long with dyed black hair. He had two rings in his upper eyelid, one through his nose, I lost count of the number in his upper ears, and sincerely hoped that he would not also be removing his shirt.
The haircut was adequate, but not outstanding. The young barber was clearly displeased that I eschewed a massage, and most of the customary extras that can give rise to a heavy barber’s bill. I was pleased to get clear of the place and although I sometimes see ‘Jason King’ on the street these days I avoid his gaze.
One day I accompanied Mrs. Bray to her hairdresser and Turgay, her kuaför offered to cut my hair. I had not expected this but he made a superb job and so we have been having our hair cut as a family together regularly ever since.
Yesterday, however, was different. I decided to drop by on my own. The salon was practically empty, following New Years celebrations and in the absence of other family members I received the services of not just Turgay, but also his two assistants.
They decided that I was suffering with dandruff, probably as a result of using Storax soap, purchased from ‘the Olive Man’ but that is another story, instead of shampoo.
Like clinicians they poured over my scalp, went into a cupboard, and emerged with a dark brown bottle. After Turgay had cut my hair, one of his assistants shampooed it in a backwash. He treated it with two products, the second of which required me to wait for ten minutes with it on my head.
The second assistant rinsed the hair, and also dried it, adding a little wax just to hold it in place. The whole process took around an hour and I left with a bag upon which the slogan ‘Don’t Be Rigid Everything Can Be The Opposite Of Everything’ on the side. It contained a bottle of the special shampoo.
Today, I thought about that slogan and noticed that under it was printed www.davines.com. When I looked it up I found that the manufacturer of my new shampoo is a business with a complete, ecological, systemic, holistic, philosophy. Just take a look at this video about their work. You may be amazed!
P.S. I recovered from the near death experience in Istanbul after dumping all that medication.
Something within me decided to get well, and things have been looking up ever since 😉