*The following is a creative piece of fiction I wrote and published in 2012. All events were created for entertainment.
Up four flights of stairs past an out of service lift, I step into ‘V-Cuts’, the familiar hum of the clippers reassuring me.
The temperature is tropical as usual and I can’t help but dab my forehead with a tissue as a single bead of sweat trickles past my temple.
I lounge on a dusty sofa, beside a few other young men waiting to be lined up by the best barber this side of the Midlands.
But this is no ordinary hair salon. ‘V-Cuts’ is located in the living room of a student apartment in Leeds.
The eponymous Vitesh is a student himself and his client list is so long that he’s never short of work. When he isn’t cutting hair, he can be seen treading the dancefloors of West Yorkshire’s nightclubs.
“Safe”, he says after receiving a crisp £10 note from the latest departure from the chair. This is his parting message of thanks to his customers and a well-wish until their next visit to the chair.
Queuing can be what takes up most time while chilling in the waiting area of the makeshift barbershop. The waiting area is merely a sofa in his open plan living room-cum-kitchen area, but it is always accommodating and friendly. The relaxed environment allows me to speak to a variety of people that I may not have ever met in my sheltered southern upbringing.
Clients from different occupations and walks of life are waiting, united by an appreciation for the quality of Vitesh’s hair designs. There are students studying in Leeds. Professionals living in the area who’ve heard of
the barbershop through word-of-mouth. Musicians and DJs with perplexing names arrive for a quick shape-up before playing in local nightclubs.
From a hedonistic drug-user from Chester, to a friendly drug-dealer from Bolton. People come from far and wide to get lined-up by Vitesh. He’s not limited to any one style or hair type though. He cuts the hair
of black and white men, as well as Asian hair like his own. He is yet to diversify into female hairdressing but admits that could be the real money-maker.
The barbershop discussions do not vary massively from standard conversations that one might overhear in other barbershops. The standard hairdresser topics like the weather or how their week has been come up
from time to time, but conversations typically rotate around, sport and nights out.
Vitesh says, “I know barely anything about football. I try and watch a bit just so I know what people are talking about.”
I drift in and out of conversation as my nights are usually pretty boring in comparison to the wild partying that some other people waiting in line get up to. The heat is getting to me and I begin to fall asleep
in my chair.
“What was last night saying?” is the standard question that really gets the conversation flowing. The amount of drugs taken the previous night or the amount of alcohol consumed. Who took a girl home with
them. Or who else was out. Conversations follow a similar pattern but are never any less entertaining.
The sound of the television serves as a backdrop with the typical student staple of ‘Jeremy Kyle’ and other trashy daytime television the only options on the TV guide.
His flatmates mill in and out between their bedrooms and this communal area. A loud buzzer sounds to alert the room whenever another visitor arrives. Whoever is nearest presses the button to grant them entry,
paying little attention to who is on the CCTV monitor let alone lifting the intercom to ask.
A flatmate sets up a laptop in the corner of the room and plugs it into a surround sound speaker
system. Patiently waiting in line you are able to put on music of your choice. The music selections vary wildly from one hour to the next. The mellow slow beats of soulful house or future garage, to the thumping basslines of dubstep or shockingly explicit lyrics of a grime freestyle over 140 beats per minute.
Despite the landlord’s orders of no smoking inside, it is far too much effort going down the stairs to smoke outside. Windows are usually left open or the extractor fan of the cooker is sometimes used to clear the air
Smokers are usually accommodated by being able to drop their ash from their cigarettes or other cannabis roll-ups into whatever they find nearest at the time. Mugs, glasses, bottle lids or even DVD cases. Why
mess around formalities though when often the floor or the kitchen sink will suffice?
Another completed cut means that I’m finally next in line. Instead of another £10 note this time the transaction is a small bag of cannabis. Presumably the street value is £10 or more. I wondered, how many of his other hundreds of clients were paying him in a similar way. Or was this a one-off agreement?
I jump into the chair. An office computer chair on swivelling wheels to allow Vitesh to catch the best of the natural light.
This is all made possible by the large, floor to ceiling glass window that allows natural light to penetrate. This window has no way of being opened, however, hence the heat. The view can only be described as
‘industrial’ as it looks out over Leeds. The bar staff smoking outside the restaurant across the road glance up and give us a wave. They know Vitesh well. He frequently entertains and intrigues the restaurant diners opposite by cutting hair in such an odd location as well as signalling to attractive young ladies outside smoking or inside eating their tapas.
Snipping, and shaving.
Snipping and shaving.
Snipping and shaving.
I sit back and appreciate the master at work. We talk about a lot but predictably always return to the common themes.
He rotates me in the chair like it’s some placid merry-go-round. This allows him to get to all angles and sides of my hair.
In all, the haircut takes a considered 25 minutes. I have gone for his trademark ‘skin fade’ where the back and sides of my head are shaved to the skin and then blended or ‘faded’ into long hair on the top of my head.
Vitesh, 21, takes time on his haircuts and will even suggest to you what he thinks will suit both your head shape and the look you desire. If he wasn’t self employed he claims he could never do this. Working as
an employee he would have quotas to meet and be answerable to a boss for what may be seen as lack of efficiency.
He works excellently and is always professional. After a cut he offers me a room to check the finished hair styling in a large mirror. It happens to be the toilet in the apartment, appropriately labelled W.C.
Flawless as usual.
Vitesh’s flatmates are happy to have him earn a crust from their living quarters. In fact they welcome it for the entertaining mix of characters that it brings to the flat. Despite the openness of the communal
area, hair cutting takes place far enough away from the where food is prepared or television is watched. They’re also grateful for their free haircuts, particularly before a big night on the town or a crucial job interview. The heat can become even more difficult to withstand when they are cooking as well.
But it’s all in a day’s work for Vitesh and his precision. He likes tidiness and leaves the room spotless with no trace after he has given it a quick once-over with the red-faced ‘Henry the Hoover’ (a common accessory in student accommodation across the country).
Before entering Leeds Metropolitan University to study Design, particularly apt for the creative genius, he worked in a barbershop on weekends and holidays in his home town of Derby.
Most of his skill is self taught and he was in high demand back home. Often clients would pick him up in their own cars and drive him to their homes for a haircut. Armed with his travelling metal briefcase of
barber utilities, he would then give them a personal haircut in their own environment.
His part-time employment allows him to fund his lifestyle of expensive nights out and designer clothes, as well as frequent trips back to see his family in Derby on first-class train tickets.
His interest in product design frequently has him dreaming up new innovations to help with cutting hair. He particularly likes the concept of equipment that allows unskilled people to be able to do all or
part of their own haircuts at home (despite the fact that this could put him out of business!)
His future plans include opening a chain of shops with a focus on comfort and great value for money in a relaxed environment.
“I want to revolutionise the barbershop industry – one high street at a time,” he says.