Haircuts: Barberous Acts

This is another episode in his Vignettes of Youth series whereby he recalls the quirks and oddities of life in Port Elizabeth during the 1960s and 1970’s when life was far simpler but discipline was more stringent. No doubt psychologists reading these sketches will be aghast and wonder aloud why our generation was not more ill-adjusted due to the trauma inflicted upon us by parents who did not appreciate the latest hair fashion: long hair. And I wanted mine as long as possible

Main picture: For us as pre pubescent youths, La Pebra was more important than food. Why we attached such importance to it, I will never know.

Haircuts were a barbarous act in our house.  Those were the days of short back and sides just like the Army.  Dad routinely let his manual hair clippers loose on our young heads and hacked away.  At least he didn’t go all the way over the top but actually allowed a bit of modernity by snipping that away with scissors and a comb.

"Handdraulic" hair clippers

“Handdraulic” hair clippers

If Dad’s clipper wasn’t this one then it was very close.

When I was in Std 4, I spied a special offer for a Wahl electric clipper set at Kahn’s for R39.99.  I convinced Mom, always an easy touch, to stump up the money and off I went on my bicycle to North End.  When I got there, they explained that there had been a mistake and it wasn’t that one that was on special.  I stood by my rights and I hauled out the advert that I had cut out of the newspaper and they had to concede.  The listed price was R64.99 – bargain.

Handdraulic hair clippers#2

With the electric clippers I could now get my revenge on Dad’s head although it wasn’t much fun as he actually wanted it short.  But he taught me how to snip his increasingly wispy hair on the top with the comb and scissors which proved useful later.  I continued to cut Dad’s hair until I was 21 and even after that I would cut his hair when I was home on holidays.

Electric hair clippers - progress

Electric hair clippers – progress

The next aspect of our coiffure was the use of La Pebra’s gunge to keep our hair impeccablely styled throughout the day.  We would rub a glob into our hair and then form a perfectly straight side parting, flicking the hair to the left and the right.  The big fashion choice was to decide whether one wanted a left or right parting.  The follicles got so trained so that if one made a mistake, you were stuck with it for life. 

This stuff so strong that it could be used as a replacement for wood glue.  The final flourish would be the kuif (forelock).  This required a trained flick of the wrist to create the bow wave effect. 

Finally Blaine had long hair

Finally Blaine had long hair

The last time Dad made me cry was when I was in Std 8.  I was 15 years old and starting to see girls as sex objects rather than largely ignoring them as irrelevant in my life.  He decided that it was time for a haircut and proceeded in his normal way.  I first asked him nicely to leave it a bit longer and then I pleaded with him.  This cut no ice with him and in my powerless frustration, I started sniffling.  This only increased his anger as I was not only being ridiculous but also pathetic. 


He never touched my hair again and I begged Mom for barber money when necessary.  At varsity, financial strictures forced me to learn to cut my hair on my own for the next six years.  It looked great in the front but god knows what it looked like elsewhere.  UPE’s hair rules were not much better than school’s in that your hair was not allowed below the collar.  What a pleasure to arrive at UCT where free expression was allowed.  The inevitable happened – ridiculously unstyled thatches that only their owners could love.

Then came the Army.  They fooled around by cutting everything to a stubble on one side and presenting the victim with a mirror.  How those barbarians laughed at our humiliation.

My story

Studying at UPE was always a challenge, not because of the difficulty of the course but evading the hair inspections. There is little wonder why we facetitiously called it Hoer Skool by die See. It was verkrampt and a bastion of Afrikanerdom. Even the Rector at the time, Eugene Marais if I recall, was a member of the local chapter of the Broederbond.

1976 CTA graduation

1976 CTA graduation

Circa 1979 with Marilyn Bell now Beck with her kids

Circa 1979 with Marilyn Bell now Beck with her kids

Dean McCleland with hair-Snipping Tool



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