The General said that he had bother with his gas recently. I thought he was talking about his stomach again.
“No,” he said, “it’s the bottled stuff outside the back door. Everyone who comes into the house gets a smell, except me.”
The General’s nose resembles the bristles of a scrubbing brush and it’s no wonder he doesn’t smell anything.
I know from my own experience that hair in the nostrils doesn’t endear a man to strangers; even barbers sometimes look at me with a grimace.
“Do you want me to do something with that?” they wonder, pointing a long scissors at the offending follicles. Other barbers are more comforting. They approach their work with the enthusiasm of surgeons, clipping hairs one by one from the ear, nose and even sometimes from a space between my eyebrows.
I hate the waiting queue in a barber shop. I become uneasy sitting against a wall with a line of other males just staring blankly at mirrors. It triggers unpleasant memories of childhood in Cavan
I have even met a few gentle barbers who actually enjoy plucking hairs from any face as if each little follicle clipped by the scissors was a triumph of aesthetic beauty.
I suppose such barbers may have hairy fathers, and are imbued with compassion for all men afflicted with weedy noses.
The General would contend that a hairy old man is a template of masculinity which ought to be defended in the face of modernity, and against younger men who shave almost everything.
I was looking for a barber recently when I saw a woman standing in the doorway of her elegant barber shop in Letterkenny and it was a sunny day and the street was buzzing so I couldn’t resist asking if she was free to cut my hair there and then.
I hate the waiting queue in a barber shop. I become uneasy sitting against a wall with a line of other males just staring blankly at mirrors. It triggers unpleasant memories of childhood in Cavan, when children were dragged screaming into barber shops and strapped into contraptions that looked like electric chairs, with clouds of cigarette smoke hanging over them and the barber thrashing away with comb and scissors while a cigarette dangled between his lips.
His dexterity with the cigarette always impressed me but it was no compensation for the damage done to my curls and I always fled the shop like a scalded cat. I was convinced that my head looked like a gigantic egg as I walked home, braving the gauntlet of laughing girls dangling their legs from the wall near the bus station where they waited for a prince to appear before them out of the blue in Beatle boots; but it was never me.
Not that I shared any of this with the barber in Letterkenny. She was from Poland and we chatted mostly about the snow in the Tatra mountains and the medieval buildings in Krakow where I once spent a few wintery days, surviving on soup made from vegetables, sour cream and boiled eggs.
When she was finished she said, “You look much better now,” and I was relieved because my next destination was Monaghan; to film with a television company.
I lodged in a Monaghan hotel that night and later I joined a few strangers at the bar. I joked that being from Cavan I rarely stay overnight inside the Monaghan border for fear of having disturbing dreams.
As it happened the Dubliner had massive clumps of hair growing from his nose and I saw an opportunity to deftly change the conversation
“I wake up thinking I’m in one of Pat McCabe’s masterful novels,” I declared, “which are a joy to read but you wouldn’t want to be actually stuck inside one”.
As I regaled my new friends I noticed that one person in the company was staring at me with such consternation that I presumed him to be from somewhere remote, like Dublin. He was taking the banter too seriously.
“I’m only joking,” I assured him.
I explained that flinging malignant insults and scurrilous lies across the county boundary in both directions was an ancient pastime in south Ulster, that usually implied more affection than animosity.
“I love Monaghan as much as Cavan,” I confessed.
As it happened the Dubliner had massive clumps of hair growing from his nose and I saw an opportunity to deftly change the conversation.
“Do you use bottled gas in Dublin?” I wondered. He did.
“And do you have an alarm?”
He didn’t know.
“Well it’s worth checking,” says I; “you can’t be too careful”. And I went on to recount the General’s difficulties.
The stranger was grateful for the advice and said he’d look into it.
Then he asked me would I like a drink.
“Look,” says I, “am I from Cavan or what?”