12:00 am December 9, 2021
For some 32 years, Paul Carpenter, from Milton Keynes, has been cutting the hair of Ilfracombe men and boys at his High Street barber shop, Hairport. And he’s also a real blokey barber. No flowers, no women’s magazines, no nail bar and no unnecessary thrift store. Not even a pillow.
Regular customers know that when you sit at the end of its wobbly waiting bench, the other end will lift into the air unless someone else is balancing your weight. Paul knows everyone in Ilfracombe; there are few guys living in town who haven’t, at some point in their lives, seen Paul’s scissors pierce their manes.
His clients have built up three decades of loyalty to the city’s longest-serving barber, starting with the first mop removal they suffered before the first day of school, and years later, tidying up before a major job interview. .
Each haircut would over time produce various piles of black, brown, blonde or red hair, inevitably turning gray. Plus, as those scalps got older, Paul found himself drying out the precious remaining strands of the same guys, now middle aged, and very lucky to have hair at all.
Paul, like any good hairdresser, is a master of the art of ten-minute conversation. Equipped with his encyclopedic mental archive of Ilfracombe’s history and characters, he has cultivated an instantly retrievable, unparalleled database of Ilfrafacts.
Hairport has an extensive collection of porcelain shaving cups assembled over a lifetime, including one in French pewter saved from oblivion in its home country.
Sadly, Paul has announced his retirement after a period of poor health, but hopefully his office will move on to a worthy successor.
For all the human occupations replaced by computerized artificial intelligence, Heaven forbids boffins to create a talking Mickey capable of cutting and styling while discussing the last game of Ilfracombe football club.
I can just hear the chatty robot come out with “I see Arsenal was out for three wickets at Wimbledon”, before crashing down. Paul’s spectacular window themes celebrating both national and local major events, always a joy to see, will be greatly missed. He was at the cutting edge of technology!
Returning late at night to Ilfracombe in Essex last weekend, I was cheered by the three red lights atop each of the wind turbines at Mullacott Cross. One of them, which costs nearly a million pounds, powers the freezers of catering supplier Philip Dennis. The business has flourished mightily since it was started by butcher Archie Dennis on a Braunton kitchen table.
Like benign headlights, the glow of the turbines greets weary drivers and passengers after a long drive or just a night out at Barnstaple. Not everyone likes wind power, but one way to learn to coexist with things you don’t like is to give them a cuddly nickname.
Now they are Rag, Tag and Bobtail, according to the riverside characters in BBC Television’s eponymous 1950s children’s series, largely forgotten by all but former Britons. It shows my age, doesn’t it?
I knew it existed, but I took a first look at the Gossip Around Ilfracombe Facebook page. All human life is there, and a valuable source of information on where to get a broken dryer fixed, or ask where your cat is who didn’t come for her tea.
A core of regular contributors of two thousand members maintains the site and I was amused to learn that a neighbor’s pajama pants had been discovered in someone’s backyard with three clips still attached. Meanwhile, the discoverer of a cell phone left at Chickenland is anxious to return the device to its owner, while another Ilfracomber laments “the impossibility” of seeing, for love or money, a doctor.
There is also the intrigue. Who is the culprit who arouses outrage by smuggling his recycling waste into the trash of another household? Does a reader remember the 1962 Bernard Cribbins comedy song “Gossip Calypso”? If so, I’m afraid it’s been spinning in your head all day now. Sorry!