I noticed something different when I went along for my regular trim and styling the other day. My barber, Mateo, who also happens to be my uncle on my mother’s side, is an eccentric from Barcelona who moved further inland to Valladolid in an effort to get away from the humidity of the coast. He has added a whole array of new beard and hair products on his shelves from a company called Hey Joe, each of which is emblazoned with a grinning, muscular cartoon crocodile. Mateo was even wearing a T-Shirt exclaiming ‘Trust Me’ scripted above the very same croc, now sporting a monocle, top hat, wearing a bow tie and flanked by straight razors in a weird form of coat of arms…I want one was my first thought!
The range is certainly eye-catching and he couldn’t wait to talk about them.
‘Diego, you must try these. They are fantastic,’ he said as he plucked a small round tin of pomade from amongst its brethren and plopped it in my hand, ‘and best of all they are from Spain, Barcelona in fact.’
At the mention of his, and my mother’s home town, Mateo gets a little teary eyed and reminiscent of his old life. He clears his throat and stares at me expectantly. I am not sure what to say and he doesn’t really give me a chance anyway.
‘Come on, come here and let me wash out that rubbish you have in your hair.’
I want to let him know that the ‘rubbish’ in my hair was a product from his recommendation a few months ago, but I let it pass as I sit down in the comfortable green leather chair and lean back to let him wash through my hair with warm water and a tiny amount of shampoo.
‘Now see, Diego, this what you are using is a medium hold, your style,’ he leans over me and our noses almost touch, yet his hand still massages my hair and scalp whilst his other manoeuvres the warm spray, ‘your style is more unique, more in need of a firmer hold on life’s passing moments.’ His face disappears as abruptly as it appeared, ‘You need a hold that defines your outlook on life.’
Now I am proud of my hair, I’m Spanish; we all love to have thick hair, but Mateo sees hair with a passion that I don’t think anyone else has ever attained. I told you he was eccentric.
‘Diego, you are blessed and I almost feel the need to thank you to let me work and sculpt you.’ Mateo pauses and stares out of the large plate glass window that bears his name, ‘Yes, you are my muse, my porcelain, my clay.’
His hands stop their massage and a towel appears as if by magic to blot and gently rub my head and hair.
‘We must be careful, we must gently ease the statue from the stone from whence it hides.’
He kicks off the brake and wheels me the few feet to place me in front of the large mirror that takes up one wall. The tools of his trade are lined up in front of it like the demented torturers appliances of old; straight razors, jewelled or bone handled scissors, combs, brushes, bristles and items I have no idea what use they would be in a barber’s shop.
‘Just a little trim and perhaps we can talk about styling,’ I say, but I can see that Uncle Mateo has his own ideas.
‘Trust me,’ he says and my eyes are drawn to the logo on his T-shirt. The crocodile of Hey Joe seems to be grinning even wider at me and his eyes seem to follow mine as Mateo moves around me doing his magic.
I don’t know how long it is before he stands back and looks at me in the mirror with a smile on his face. Between his wizardry with the blade and the hold of the Hey Joe pomade my hair has been turned into a work of art. The pomade, which he so expertly massaged and coaxed into my strands, seems to not only hold his creation in a vice like grip, but it does so with a subtlety that I would never have thought possible.
He whips out his mobile phone and takes a few pictures of me admiring my new look in the mirror before he allows me to leave. I gave up trying to pay long ago, Mateo believes family never pay, but it is only when I get a few hundred metres down the street I realise I am still clutching the tin of Hey Joe Super Strong Hair Pomade in my hand.
I just love my weekly visits to see family.