Friday, November 16, 2012

Ashley Sterne Beauty and Barberism

Today the National Library of Australia graciously sent me an email message informing me that a new article by Ashley Sterne had been added to their digitized newspaper archive.  This short article was originally republished in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA) on December 13th 1919.

Beauty and Barberism

By Ashley Sterne

I was leaning over the garden gate to see if there was a Punch-and-Judy show, or a dancing bear, or even the village idiot to amuse me.

To tell the truth, I was feeling awfully bored. Nobody loved me. Mrs. D., my housekeeper, declined to pay nuts-in-May with me. ["Nuts in May", a nursery rhyme similar to "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush", was often sung as a game with the aim of pairing a boy and girl from within the singers.]  The cat wouldn't purr to me. The canary couldn't sing to me. It had been inside the cat since the previous day.

Then an errand boy passed. He looked up at me and remarked, "Get your 'air out!"

I gave a shriek of joy. 

"Bright youth!" I exclaimed. "Take this well-filled purse."

But before I had time to give it to him I was down the street and entering the hair-wrencher's. There were no customers in the shop — only a beauteous damsel fixing a fringe on a wax lady.

"Is the hair-cutting cutter-man in?" I asked politely.

"No," said she. "The management changed hands this morning. I am the barberess. Do you want a hair cut?"

"I'm not particular," I said.

"Hair cut, wet shampoo, dry shampoo," she began, reading from a list on the wall.

"Good enough,' I interrupted, getting into the chair. "I'll take the table d'hote. Hair-cut, soup, shampoo, fish, singe, joint with two veg., shave, and savoury."

Then she helped me into a fair linen surplice, stuffed a pound and a half of thermogene down my neck, stuck a serviette under my chin, and put a clean antimacassar on the head-rest. All this was most delightful.

My boredom was vanishing. I saw myself joining the emporium's toilet club (book of twelve tickets six-and-ninepence, including amusement tax), and coming to have a hair-cut two or three times a week. In fact, before she'd cut half-way through the first hair I found that not only had I joined the toilet club, but that she had sold me a bottle of hair-tonic guaranteed to grow a new hide on a French poodle in two days, and a bottle of lotion for sticking prominent ears to the side of the head.

She really was an exceedingly attractive damsel, and we got on very well together. I never knew hair-cutting could, with a little artifice, be made as enjoyable as eight-hours-at-the-seaside. But then the old barber man never sat on my knee when he cut my fringe. I'd have pushed him off if he had, thickened his ears, flattened his eyes, and squashed his nose. But Phyllis was different (we called one another by our Christian names).

It took us three hours to finish the programme, and, as I pressed my bag of money into her hand a wave of sadness swept over me. I left the shop thinking of my lonely hearth with only Bartholomew, the black beetle, and Clarence, the cricket, to keep me company.

I retraced my steps and entered the shop. Phyllis was fitting some piebald whiskers {showing "before" and "after") on to a wax gentleman, who had been beheaded through the chest.

''Good evening,' I said, handing her my book of toilet club tickets. "I want a hair-cut, a shampoo, a singe, a shave, a bottle of —"

"No, you don't," Phyllis broke in. "The management has again changed hands. Uncle Esau returned from the conference of the Brilliantine Boilers' Union two minutes ago."

I was feeling most awfully bored with myself. I re-retraced my steps, and looked vainly for the village idiot.

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