Friday, May 22, 2020

S.1 Ep.7


TIME AND THE HAIRCUT


Priti Patel Eats Flesh Of Covid Survivor In Gruesome Inoculation Bid, read the front page of the Mirror.
Keanu MacPherson, Number 2 to barbershop legend Barney Thomson, held up the paper to let Barney and shop everyman, deaf, mute hunchback Igor, read the headline, than he flipped the paper to the side, where it landed on top of the pile of that morning’s inane newspaper garbage.
Magnificent Boris To Be Cloned As UK Scientists Seek Master Race Gene, said the Telegraph. PM Promises £500m For Whatever As Britain Leads Way In Everything, bloviated the Express. The Mail led with, Covid First Spawned In Barnier’s Spleen, As EU Kills Millions. The Sun had, War With Germany Now Only Option, As Lads Head To Beaches To Defend Britain; the Star had Babe Scientists Develop Covid Cure Using Only Tits.
‘They do say Priti Patel’s a tiny-brained, spineless, authoritarian, bullying twatwomble,’ said Keanu, nodding, agreeing with his own statement, indicating the discarded paper with a thumb.
Barney and Igor lifted their mugs in agreement, there was really nothing else to add, and another little spurt of conversational activity was over for the morning.

Mona Lisa

A bleak Friday in May, low grey cloud settled over the island, seemingly for the rest of the month. None of that May’s-the-nicest-month-in-Scotland malarkey going on here. The weather was just shit. Grim, to fit the times. Economy in freefall, the neverending lockdown beginning to wear on even those who thought it the right thing to do, people across the land ready to break free from the repressive shackles of confinement, to celebrate the brave new world of unemployment, magnificent economic recession and mental health cataclysm, yet being told to stand steady at the doorway, to pause, to wait it out just that little bit longer before taking the great leap forward into this exciting new societal oblivion.
‘Reckon we’re all fucked,’ said Old Man McGuire, looking grumpily at himself in the mirror.
McGuire got his hair cut every week, even though he didn’t have very much hair, and what he did have grew so slowly he could likely have got away with an annual cut. Today he’d requested an Edward Scissorhands. Keanu had readily agreed, and was in the process of giving him a Bruce Willis Die Hard 6 – Die Again, But Better, which was pretty much the only haircut he could actually give Old Man McGuire.
‘I think you’re right,’ said Keanu. ‘But we’ll still have the sea to swim in, and the hills to look at, though, eh?’
‘Swim? In the Clyde? Are you off your nuts, son?’
Barney, standing at the window with a cup of tea, smiled to himself, and Igor, sweeping up at the back of the shop, chuckled in his strange, grim manner.
‘Anyway,’ said McGuire, looking in the mirror, and indicating the painting that had been hung on the wall behind him, ‘The fuck is that thing doing here?’
‘It’s art,’ said Keanu, pausing for a moment to look at the copy of the Mona Lisa that now took centre stage on the wall above the customer bench.
McGuire gave Keanu the appropriate look, which he rounded off with a curmudgeonly, ‘Fuck’s sake, son.’
‘It’s the latest Scottish government initiative,’ said Keanu. ‘They’re paying artists to paint replicas of famous artworks, then distributing them on a loan basis around essential establishments, like Post Offices and barbershops, so that the general public get a bit of art in their lives.’
McGuire looked at Keanu, his face furrowed and contorted in disapproval, then he said. ‘Sounds like a load of shite. Legalised forgery at that. They shifty bastards in Edinburgh’ll probably sell them off as the real thing when all this is over. Fuckers.’
‘Seriously, Frank?’ said Barney. ‘It’s the Mona Lisa. And the artist has signed her name in the bottom corner. And even if she’d signed it Leonardo, any art historian is going to be able tell in the first five seconds it’s not the original. It’s just a nice little initiative from the government, and now all week we get to talk about the Mona Lisa in the shop, which is, you know, more interesting than talking about the time you got your testicles waxed, which you kept going on about last week.’
‘Humph,’ said McGuire, then he settled down into his disgruntlement, and stared at the Mona Lisa in the mirror.
The Mona Lisa stared enigmatically back.
‘What d’you think of it, then?’ asked McGuire after a while.
‘Overrated,’ said Barney.
‘Bit shit,’ said Keanu.
‘Arf!’

Enlightenment II – Just When You Thought It Was Safe
To Watch Butt-Naked Wife Swap Goes Jesus

There was a little more bustle around the shop, as word got around that an acceptable copy of the Mona Lisa was hanging on the wall. Of course, to enter the shop one had to undergo the Covid Instatest distributed to barbershops nationwide, so quite a few people came along, stood outside, and stared through the large picture window. With Barney, Igor or Keanu usually standing on the other side, however, the gawpers rarely stayed long.
Late morning and there were now three customers in. Barney was cutting the hair of Toby Flintstone, in for his regular Augustine Three-Quarter Firework, while Keanu was giving Old Man Worthington a short back and sides. Both customers were studying the enigmatic Italian in the mirror. The customer in waiting, young Heppenstall, was reading the Sun.
‘D’you think it’s working?’ asked Flintstone after a while.
‘How d’you mean?’ said Barney, who was currently carving Flintstone’s hair into the most elaborately quaffed example of Greco-Roman chic this side of the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths in 410.
‘By foisting art on the masses like this, d’you think they’ll manage to induce this new Scottish enlightenment they’re after? Don’t you think this kind of thing needs to be organic? It happens, or it doesn’t. Usually it doesn’t. You can’t create the Renaissance, you can’t force progress in this way. It has to evolve naturally.’
‘Maybe society just needs a nudge,’ said Barney. ‘Maybe all that separates 21st century Scotland from the next great illumination is for the government to say, here you go, have a look at this for a change.’
‘Did you see this?’ said Heppenstall from the bench. ‘Apparently Maz from Love Island is getting her boobs re-inflated.’
He didn’t look up to see if anyone shared his interest, smiling at himself instead. Flintstone gave Barney the benefit of a raised eyebrow, and Barney smiled.
‘They’re never going to achieve any shite with the Mona Lisa, are they?’ said Old Man Worthington, with a cantankerous mutter from beneath Keanu’s scissors. ‘It’s been so absorbed into the mainstream. And there’s so much shite said about it. ‘No one knows what she’s thinking’, and ‘she’s looking at you, rather than you’re looking at her’, and blah-de-fucking-noncing-blah. What a load of keich. Look at her. Look!’
They all looked at the Mona Lisa, and then back at Old Man Worthington.
‘What’s the difference between that and any other portrait? If the fucking artist painted the geezer staring straight out at you, then the geezer’s looking at you as much as you’re looking at him. If you think it’s different, it’s because you’re projecting something on to that inanimate thing. Fine, there may be plenty of shite portraits in the world, but there are literally thousands of portraits with some bird looking enigmatic as fuck, often enough with her tits out. Leonardo my arse. He can fuck off.’
Somewhere in the ether, Leonardo Da Vinci, who just before his death had invented a device to allow him to survive in space for all eternity, allowing him to listen to what people said about him, stared dejectedly into the pit of immortality.
‘Wouldn’t mind getting an Hieronymus Bosch next,’ said Keanu. ‘Ant And Dec In The Nest of Demons, something like that.’
‘Bosch!’ scoffed Old Man Worthington. ‘Load of magic mushroom-induced shite, by the way.’
‘Ha!’ ejaculated Heppenstall from the bench. ‘Says here Matt Hancock got tested for Corona. Test came back 99% arsehole.’
Worthington and Flintstone laughed. Keanu shook his head.
‘Classic,’ said Heppenstall. ‘Oh, look, more tits on the next page…’

8-1

The men of the barbershop were standing at the window, enjoying a post-lunch cup of tea. The day outside had turned even bleaker, so that there was hardly anyone abroad, and the brief queue of those coming to look at the Mona Lisa from outside had dried up.
It was one of those dank days on the Clyde, where the grim, soaking drizzle seemed to infect everything. Every piece of clothing, every room, every scrap of paper, every broken heart. This was the history of Scotland in miniature. Potentially glorious, yet all the beauty suffocated beneath miserable disappointment, be it the floundering of Darien, the oppression of Westminster, or Hansen and Miller colliding on a playing field in Málaga.
The only surprise of the year was that the lockdown hadn’t been introduced with Scotland 4-0 up against France in the final of the Euros with ten minutes remaining, the entire tournament then being ordered to be replayed, with Scotland failing to get to the finals at all, losing 8-1 to Israel at Hampden.
The sea too was being suffocated by the weather, a flat calm now extending out to the grey horizon, the horizon itself lost in a dull haze, the line between sea and sky obliterated. The white promenade wall across the street from where they stood was lined with gulls, each of them with their backs to land, looking out to sea, as though waiting for something to happen.
‘Maybe the wind changed, and Scotland’s stuck like this,’ said Keanu after a while.
Barney and Igor stared straight ahead, out past the gulls, into the grey beyond, and nodded.
‘Maybe you’re right,’ said Barney. ‘Maybe the entire country’s like this.’
‘Or the entire world,’ said Keanu. ‘The planet’s been bitten by the lockdown bug, and has shut itself down. No more weather, no more wind, just bleak, low cloud and rain for the foreseeable future.’ He paused. He took a drink. He stared grimly across the road. ‘It’ll be like living in Fife,’ he added, after a while.
‘Arf,’ said Igor, and the others nodded.
Keanu checked his watch. 
‘Two o’clock. Maybe we could stick the news on, find out what’s happening.’
Barney took a drink, gave Keanu something of a side eye, then reluctantly nodded. Even Barney, now internationally recognised as the coolest customer on the block, was a little unnerved by the on-going heavy weight of silence.
‘Cool,’ said Keanu.
He turned the radio on, resuming his position as the BBC newsreader dispensed with the introductory message of the hour, and raced straight to the headlines.
‘The total number of deaths in the UK from Covid has been rounded down to zero, after new government guidelines for measuring the metric, with ministers claiming complete success in tackling the illness. In other news, leaked internal Foreign Office documents indicate Dominic Raab has issued an ‘obey me or die’ edict to all staff; scientists discover Michael Gove no longer actually exists; President Trump says his brain is now too big for his own skull, and will be transplanted into the head of an elephant …’
With one step Barney reached the radio – he was like a squash player in total control at the centre of the court, only ever one step away from all the crucial parts of the shop – and turned it off.
‘Enough of that,’ he said.
‘Aye, fair enough.’
Returned to position, the three men resumed where they’d been thirty seconds previously, staring out of the window into the grey nothingness. Time passed, though neither pedestrians nor cars passed with it, and the gulls did not move.
Such were these days.

The Tin of Beans And The Last Crusade

‘What are you writing now, son?’ asked Danny McLeod, Thane of Kames, in for his familiar William Wallace cut. ‘Been a while since I read one of your books.’
Keanu paused, nodding at the question. As a pursuer of literary superstardom, he liked it when people asked about his books. While permanently feeling like he was on the edge of a breakthrough, it remained the case that his bestselling work, Bring Me The Decapitated Head Of Mountebank Stump, had yet to crack five hundred sales.
‘Well, I had been writing a kind of fast-paced, espionage thriller called The Salamander Eats No Chickens, but I’ve got to admit, been struggling with it. Fast-paced espionage thriller isn’t really my genre.’
‘Sounds decent, though,’ said Kames.
‘Thanks, but you know, I think I might have to let it go for now. First book I’ve had to abandon since The Man Who Ate His Own Legs. Still,’ and he indicated the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa in the mirror, ‘I’ve been taking some inspiration from our visitor here. Think I might write a Mona Lisa story.’
‘Art theft. Nice. That’ll make a great movie ‘n’ all.’
‘No, not about the painting. I’m going to fictionalise the life of the Mona Lisa herself. And rather than her being some boring wife of a guy who did a thing, I’m going to make her a glamorous, kick-ass spy, who sleeps with hundreds of men and saves the world on a regular basis. The whole boring wife thing is going to be her cover.’
‘So, kind of like True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger?’
‘If you like, except it’ll be the Mona Lisa, and it’ll be awesome.’
‘Hmm,’ said Kames, ‘not bad. Better make sure no one’s done that before, though.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ chipped in Barney distractedly from the window.
‘Nah,’ said Keanu, ‘we’re good. I really like the idea. If I check to see if someone’s done it before, and they have, then I’m stuffed. But if I don’t know that someone else has done it, and go ahead and write it, my thing’s going to be completely different, and I can genuinely say I had no idea someone had done something similar.
‘And if it goes well, I can do the same with the decapitated head of John The Baptist, the lad in the Hay Wain, and that tin of Campbell’s soup that Andy Warhol made famous for fifteen minutes.’
Kames laughed.
The Tin Of Soup And The Goblet of Fire,’ he said, making a banner headline gesture beneath the black cape.
The Tin of Soup’s Adventures in Wonderland.’
Fifty Shades of The Tin of Soup,’ said Igor, and he chuckled darkly, and even though all he actually managed to say was ‘Arf,’ the others all understood, even Kames, and they laughed along with him.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll And The Tin Of Soup,’ said Keanu, not willing to let the joke go just yet.
‘Not bad,’ said Kames. ‘Wait, that might be it. Dr Jekyll turns into a tin of soup.’
‘Decent,’ said Keanu, perking up, thinking maybe they’d hit on a solid literary idea. ‘Then someone eats him, and he transforms back into himself, inside someone’s stomach.’
They all stared.
‘Needs work,’ said Barney.
‘No, no, it’s good. Maybe the doctor doesn’t reconstitute as, you know, a complete doctor, which would be weird, but instead infiltrates the person who eats him, moving throughout his body, and taking over.’
The others at least gave this some thought, until finally Kames said, ‘And it works, until the guy goes for a shit, and then…’ and he finished the gag off with the appropriate noise.
Barney, thinking that was a suitable end to the conversation, lifted the tea to his lips, and turned away, nodding ruefully.
Outside, the day had not changed, the low, grey cloud sat above them like a giant, neverending patch of cotton wool, sucking up all the life and the art and the music and everything that ever was, leaving nothing beneath but a barren wasteland of desolate humanity.
‘Weather’s going to be the same tomorrow,’ said Barney, his voice low, subdued, melancholic, taken by the day.
‘Arf,’ said Igor, nodding.
Keanu and Kames shared a grim look in the mirror, nodded at each other, they both glanced at the Mona Lisa to include her in the general acceptance of the inevitability of time and the haircut and that all things must pass, even conversations about tins of soup, and that one day, even this low grey cloud would pass, but not yet, not today, and as Keanu resumed the cut, and Kames closed his eyes and tried to think of nothing, Keanu thought, hmm, Time And The Haircut, that might be the perfect sleeper book, like one of those Norwegian books about chopping up wood that everyone buys and reads for no particular reason, other than it’s written at such a different pace to real life, it transports you onto another plane, and maybe Time And The Haircut could be its philosophical equivalent.
Barney looked out upon the great grey beyond, and considered the ill fate of all mankind.

* * *

‘Which piece of art d’you suppose we’ll get given next week?’ asked Keanu, as the three chaps stood at the window, looking out on the end of a day, which was not noticeably different from any other part of the day.
The Closed sign was on the door, and they were enjoying a final cup of tea of the afternoon. Across the road, the seagulls remained determinedly lined up on the wall, barely moving, although one of them had now turned to face the shop. In the hands of a master storyteller or filmmaker, that lone gull could have been ominously creepy, but this wasn’t that kind of story or film. This was just three guys chewing the fat, watching the world stand still.
‘I’ve asked for Joseph Wright of Derby’s An Experiment On A Politician In The Air Pump,’ said Barney. ‘I like that one.’
‘Nice,’ said Keanu, nodding, then, ‘never heard of it.’
‘Arf,’ said Igor, and Barney nodded, and Keanu hadn’t quite understood what he meant.
Across the road, one of the gulls took flight, squawking as it went, but the others did not follow. The sea continued to be becalmed, and now, as afternoon transformed into evening, it seemed the only change was that the mainland to the south, and the island of Little Cumbrae in the firth, were beginning to be swallowed up by the rain and the mist. Soon even the small islands in the bay would vanish, and the town would be submerged in soaking drizzle.
‘I’m going to write a book called Time And The Haircut,’ said Keanu after a while. ‘It’ll be a bestselling philosophical treatise on the interconnectedness of time, thought, football, politics, life and hair. It’s going to be really slow and meditative. Nothing will happen. People are going to love it. No, wait, they won’t love it, but someone somewhere will say it’s amazing, and everyone will buy it, but no one will actually read it, like A Brief History of Time. Then I’ll be awarded the Nobel.’
Barney and Igor stared straight ahead, looking out into the gloom. The gull that had attempted to break free from the monotony of the wall, having flown quickly to the pier, now returned and settled back into its place, and resumed its vigil over the end of the grim afternoon.
‘I’ll still come to work, though,’ said Keanu, and Barney nodded, and Igor said, ‘Arf,’ and so the day wound its way to an end.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

S.1 Ep.6 
BOBBLEHEAD


Eyeing Poll Boost, Boris Vows To Have Another Baby Next Month, read the headline in the Telegraph.
Barney Thomson, barbershop legend, tossed the paper on the top of the pile of that morning’s news, where it landed with a flop on the Daily Express, covering up the headline, Rush For UK Passports As EU Scum Eye Our Benefits, Jobs And Women. Beneath the Express lay the Mail, headline It’s Time For War With Germany!, the Sun, RAF Mark VE Day By Bombing Dresden, the Times, Mark Francois Launches One-Man Assault On Cologne, the Guardian, Claiming Inner Light Can Cure Covid, Trump Anally Inserts Light Bulb During Dramatic Presser; and the National, Ichthyosaurs Return To Clyde As People Get Tae Fuck.
It was mid-morning, some time between second and third breakfast, and the Millport barbershop was quiet. So far that day Barney and his young padawan, Keanu, had cut the hair of one customer each, while Igor, the sweeper upper, had kept the shop shipshape and ready to receive an influx of customers that likely wouldn’t come for some months. If, indeed, ever again.
‘D’you ever follow sunspot activity?’ asked Keanu, turning from his position at the window, to engage Barney and Igor.
Outside, the day had a familiar look about it, as one day in lockdown blended into another. A grey and white cloudy sky, broken up with patches of blue, here and there the sun catching the waves out on the water, as the sea stretched away to the mainland and to the shore of Little Cumbrae, a mile across the firth.
Igor shook his head, Barney gave Keanu the quizzical eyebrow. It was something else to think about, other than whether or not to have tea or coffee with third breakfast.
‘Go on,’ said Barney, as Igor leant on his broom, happy to pick up whatever vibe of the conversation he could, considering he was deaf. Few were there in the world of men who truly understood Igor.
‘There’s a cool website, SpaceWeather.com, and it gives daily details of sunspot activity, among other stuff.’
Barney found himself glancing out of the window as though he might be able to see the sun, although from the position in which he was sitting in the middle of the shop, he would never be able to see the sun, regardless of cloud cover.
‘Much sunspot activity at the moment?’
‘Hardly any,’ said Keanu. ‘We’re in deep solar minimum.’
‘Solar minimum?’
‘That’s what they call it. It comes in an eleven-year cycle. Should be coming out of it again within the next year, and regular sunspot activity will kick off again.’
‘Why?’
‘Why what?’
‘Why do sunspots go in an eleven-year cycle?’
Keanu stared at him across the short distance of the shop.
‘Science,’ he said, after a while.
‘That’ll do,’ said Barney. ‘How many sunspots are there today?’
‘None.’
Silence, then a slight creaking of Igor’s broom, as he shifted position.
‘You also get the temperature of the thermosphere,’ said Keanu.
‘This keeps getting more and more exciting,’ said Barney. ‘What’s the temperature of the thermosphere today?’
Keanu lifted his phone, took a second, then said, ‘3.33,’ eyebrows raised, as though this was significant.
‘3.33 what?’
‘Times 10 to the power 10, W,’ said Keanu.
‘What does W stand for?’
Keanu glanced sideways to the camera, then looked back at Barney.
‘Science,’ he said again, since that had worked the last time.
‘You’re bringing us half a thing.’
‘Arf,’ said Igor from his broom, nodding.
‘Not really.’
‘Why?’
‘Because it doesn’t matter what it actually stands for, does it? What’s important is that it’s historically cold. It says here that the maximum was 49.4, recorded in 1947, and the minimum was 2.05 recorded during the previous solar minimum in 2009. So, from that we can see the thermosphere is getting to close to its recorded low.’
Barney glanced at Igor, Igor shrugged, Barney turned back to Keanu.
‘Will this affect us down here in Millport in any way.’
‘Probably not. But that’s the beauty of it, right?’
‘Go on.’
‘Everything on earth is blighted by us. The human race. We fuck up literally everything. Sure, every now and again we create something magnificent. I don’t know, the Night Watch or Sergeant Pepper or The Godfather. Whatever. But there’s so much natural beauty in the world, often on a magnificent, grand scale, and the chances are we’ll ruin the shit out of. Even space, immediate space just up there, we’re filling up with our junk, and President Moron’s talking about mining on the moon. I mean, the moon’s a barren rock of nothingness, but we’ll still manage to make it worse.
‘But the sun? The sun doesn’t give a fuck, man. We can’t do anything to it. We can’t touch it. We could fire every weapon we’ve got on earth at it, and the sun wouldn’t even notice.’
‘Hmm,’ said Barney. ‘Not bad.’
‘Arf.’
Keanu nodded, then turned away, looking out at the familiar seascape framed by the white promenade wall and the clouds.
‘I used to look at Arctic ice graphs every day, but that got too depressing. Sunspots, though, they’re nothing to do with us. And meteor showers, that’s another one. Nice to just lose yourself in the minutiae of something beyond human control.’
‘All right, caller,’ said Barney, ‘you’ve persuaded me. SpaceWeather.com you said?’
‘Yep. Take a look. They also sell little bits of jewellery that have been into space. And sometimes Mr Spock bobbleheads that have been into space.’
Barney looked deadpan across the shop.
‘It’s cool.’
‘Is it?’
‘They take an actual Mr Spock figure into space, he goes on a space walk outside the, like, thing, and then they bring him back to earth…’
‘And sell it.’
‘Yep.’
‘For how much?’
‘So, you know the Enterprise was NCC-1701, right?’
Silence.
‘No,’ said Barney, ‘but on you go.’
‘They divide that by ten, so sell it for a hundred and seventy dollars. And ten cents.’
‘A hundred and seventy dollars?’
‘Yes.’
‘For a Mr Spock bobblehead?’
‘That’s been to space!’
Silence.
‘Actual space!’
‘I got that.’
‘And it’s being done by students, raising money for, like science and shit, it’s not, you know, some US mega-corps, ripping off the gullible public.’
‘Have you bought a Mr Spock bobblehead?’
Keanu’s brow furrowed, and he looked at Barney as though he was nuts.
And that was that for the Mr Spock bobblehead.

Anal Beautification

There were three customers in the shop, and with the customers there was a sudden life and buzz about the place, such as there hadn’t been seen in the Millport barbershop in some weeks. The clip of scissors, the hum of clippers, the occasional blast of a hair dryer, the relentless sweep of Igor’s brush, as he ensured the floor of the shop was permanently ready to have dinner eaten off it.
Barney was cutting the hair of Old Man McGuire, in for his regular Jack Nance Eraserhead cut, Keanu was giving Tommy Penhaligon a Corrugated Quadruple Axel With A Corrupted Toe Loop, while Kevin Watson was waiting on the substitutes’ bench with a head of hair like a tumbleweed tornado, reading an article in the Telegraph headlined, Boris In £80m HarperCollins Deal For 2022 Bonking Memoir; Nobel Committee Already Excited.
‘Has anyone famous been in here recently?’ asked Tommy Penhaligon.
Keanu was taking his time over the CQAWACTL cut, what with it being one of the most complex haircuts in the western world. Considering his next move, and reluctant to ask the Jedi master currently cutting hair to his left, he had to search the air for the remembrance of the words that had just been spoken, then he had to put them into some sort of context.
‘You know we’re in Millport rather than, I don’t know, Chelsea, or Beverley Hills or something?’
‘Aye, but you know what barbershops are like,’ said Penhaligon. ‘Every bastard needs their hair cut, even famous bastards. I saw a thing once,’ he added, and then did that thing where he left a gap for Keanu to ask him what the thing was about, a conversational tic that Barney for one had never understood.
‘Oh, aye?’ said Keanu, playing the required part of the curious. ‘What thing?’
‘It was in Buzzfeed. Top Ten Random Places You’re Most Likely To Meet A Celebrity.’
‘Cool. Where’d the barbershop come?’
‘Number two. Makes sense, right? Like I said, everyone needs a haircut. And sure, the likes of Jay-Zed and some other cunt, they’re going to have their own people. But, like F-listers, and footballers and that lot? In and out of barbershops like badgers.’
Barney and Keanu shared a look, a smile, and then Keanu returned to the cut, finally settling on the next manoeuvre.
‘What was number one?’
‘Anal Beautification Clinic,’ said Penhaligon.
Keanu paused. ‘You’re making that up.’
‘Naw. People love that shit. Every famous bastard wants to have an attractive arsehole these days, ain’t that right, Barney?’
Barney laughed, shook his head, made a brief I’m-not-getting-involved gesture.
‘I had mine done about three year ago,’ said Old Man McGuire. A beat, while the others stared at him, then he added, ‘Hurt like fuck taking a shit for a fortnight afterwards.’
‘Too much information, Frank,’ said Barney.
‘He started it.’
‘Did you meet anyone famous when you were in there?’ asked Penhaligon.
McGuire humphed a little, then said, ‘Brad Pitt.’
‘Talking of arseholes,’ said the guy from the bench, ‘I see Farage is trying to make the news about him again. What a prick, am I right?’

Life On Earth III

The slow post-lunch period. Customers gone, and the men of the shop had closed the door and come across the road to stand by the promenade wall to drink their cup of tea. There was a spring freshness in the air now, clouds having largely cleared, seagulls on the wing, the tide coming in, waves in a restless sea spattering against the rocks, spray bouncing, looping into the air, before being taken by a breeze containing hints of an early summer’s warmth.
There was a yacht on the wind, far out in the bay, the mainsail at a billow, the yacht low in the water; on the horizon, a cargo vessel, having recently left Hunterston Port, now heading south, bound for the distant colonies with nuclear waste material. There were a few clouds in a blue sky, though not a contrail to be seen. The skies were clear of air traffic, and to their left and to their right, along the road that ran beside Millport promenade, not a car was moving, and only a few pedestrians were abroad.
The town of Millport had literally become an eastern European art house movie.
‘If the three of us stand here long enough,’ said Keanu, ‘we’ll probably get nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign language category,’ and Barney smiled grimly, and Igor said, ‘And we’ll all turn into black and white,’ though it came out as ‘arf,’ and the others nodded in agreement.
Down on the rocks in front of them two gulls squabbled over a fish, and although it wasn’t much of a fish, nor much of a squabble, it drew their attention for a few moments.
Seagull A standing over his fish, Seagull B making occasional parries to try to steal the fish, Seagull A squawking angrily every time Seagull B made a half-hearted attempt at snatchery.
‘It’s like watching Poundshop David Attenborough,’ said Barney after a while.
‘This is actual David Attenborough,’ said Keanu. ‘The only thing we’re missing is David Attenborough, and that wee beardy Scottish guy with the camera telling us how long he sat submerged in seaweed before he got the shot.’
They watched the seagulls, as the seagulls engaged in a protracted Mexican stand off, as though entered in Big Train’sclassic world staring championships.
‘Not so sure,’ said Barney after a while.
‘About what?’
‘That this is actual David Attenborough.’
‘Sure it is,’ said Keanu. ‘I mean, yes, he has lots of naturally dramatic bits, like walruses plummeting to their deaths off cliffs, and lizards being chased by snakes, and dolphins playing golf, and all that shit, but there’s a tonne of it that’s just, I don’t know, ants running along a thing, or wild dogs eating their dinner, or a bird chirping some shit or other at another bird. Watch it with the sound off, and all you’re doing is watching an ant. I mean, really, who cares? But as soon as you turn your man on, bingo! There’s context. There’s narrative drive. Suddenly you’re rooting for that little ant as he starts trying to drag the enormous leaf back to the nest. Then the spider comes along, and you’re like, fuck off spider, and you’re cheering that wee ant on like you’ve got fifty quid on it to win the National. Unless, of course, your man Attenborough started, in the first place, to talk about the spider, and how he needs to kill an ant to get a shag, or to feed the bairns, and there are all these little spiderlings back at the web, and they haven’t eaten for days, and suddenly you’re like, come on Spider, you can do it, and you’re cursing the ant like it’s a Brexit-supporting, serial killing paedophile.’
At that moment Seagull B made a positive lunge at the small fish, managing to get a beak on it, although immediately Seagull A responded with a sharp jab to the top of the head, and Seagull B backed off again.
‘Interesting Brexit conflation you just made there,’ said Barney.
‘I do what I can.’
‘Whose side d’you think Mr Attenborough would have us on here?’
‘Seagull A,’ said Keanu. ‘That fellow caught the fish, he needs to feed the weans, he’s got little Eustace and little Maurice back at home squealing for their supper. Seagull B’s just a bastard.’
‘Arf,’ said Igor.
‘And Seagull A knows once he takes off with the fish, he’s vulnerable to attack, so all he can do is stand over it for now, trying to protect it. It’s a waiting game.’ He paused. They waited, while watching the seagulls wait. ‘Attenborough would narrativise the shit out of this.’
‘Is that even a word?’
‘Definitely.’
‘What are you doing, guys?’ said an approaching voice from their right, and they turned at the arrival of Detective Sergeant Monk of the Millport constabulary.
She stood a few feet from them, looking disapproving, and they stood in their positions, looking sheepish.
‘You can’t all stand over here,’ she said. ‘I know you’ve all been tested, and you’re in the shop every day, but the optics are terrible. The islanders see you lot doing this, and they think you can get away with this mindless hanging around because Barney and I are a thing, and then I look bad, law and order breaks down, and before you know it, there’s looting, mass riots, cars are getting set on fire, shop windows are getting smashed, and decapitated heads are being left on spikes at every junction.’
They stared at her, they turned, they looked up and down and along the deserted road, they turned back.
‘You narrativise like David Attenborough,’ said Barney.
‘You can stand out here one at a time,’ said Monk. 'If I see all three of you doing this again, I'll unleash the robodog,' and she swung a finger in the direction of the shop.
‘Ma’am,’ said Barney, Keanu nodded guiltily, and Igor muttered, ‘Arf,’ apologetically. Old Man McGuire, who was on the other side of the road, heading home, having walked slowly around the bay, shouted, ‘About time you arrested one of them,’ across the road, and then he giggled darkly to himself and walked on.

Hugo Weaving

Another day was close to biting the dust. Fifteen customers had come and gone. Fifteen customers were currently walking the roads of the island with the finest hair in the world of men.
Five minutes to closing time, and the men of the shop were standing at the window, cups of tea in hand, looking out over the remnants of the afternoon. The sun was casting a weary eye over the sea, the waves were beginning to pick up, the endless perpetual motion, the ebb and flow of coastal weather, continued.
‘We missed the news at five-thirty,’ said Keanu, breaking a lengthy silence, which Barney and Igor had been enjoying.
‘We never listen to the news,’ said Barney.
‘Sometimes I listen to the news when you’re not in the shop,’ said Keanu, and Igor cast him a baleful glance.
‘What d’you think you’ll have missed?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Maybe they found a vaccine.’
A moment passed. Another. A seagull settled on the promenade wall and stared across the road.
‘For the coronavirus, or for political stupidity?’ asked Barney, and Igor nodded grimly.
‘Arf,’ he said.
‘Absolutely,’ said Barney.
‘Maybe Trump resigned, like you keep saying he will,’ said Keanu, and he smiled, believing, like many others, that Trump would never resign.
‘We’ll know if Trump resigns without hearing it on the news,’ said Barney.
‘How come?’
‘It’ll be like a disturbance in the Force, but, you know, a positive disturbance.’
‘Ha,’ said Keanu. ‘Like the Force will have an orgasm,’ and he started to laugh, quickly stopping at the looks he received.
‘Don’t be disrespecting the Force, son,’ said Barney.
‘Sorry, boss,’ said Keanu.
A flash of movement, and then two men in dark suits appeared, crossing the road from their right. When they reached the pavement by the shop, they stopped for a moment and stared inside. Since Barney, Keanu and Igor were standing at the large, broad window looking out, they were staring at each other from about three feet apart, only a pane of glass between them.
‘Uh-oh,’ said Keanu.
Igor lifted his mug in order to hide behind it. Barney stared gloomily across the divide.
‘Fuck,’ he said softly.
The two men held them in a business-like stare for a few moments, then finally moved, a few feet to their right, and then into the shop, closing the door behind them.
For a while no one spoke, as the two sides got the measure of one another, then the men in suits looked around the shop, as though committing it all to memory for the report they would have to write up.
‘There are no customers?’ said one of them, eventually. He looked like Hugo Weaving in the Matrix, multiplied by Hugo Weaving as Elrond. The other guy looked like he’d been cloned from Hugo Weaving, but was clearly the subservient Hugo Weaving of the pair.
‘Check the big brain on Brett,’ said Barney, unable to stop himself. Sarcasm wasn’t big and it wasn’t clever, but already he was thinking these clowns could leave, and never return.
‘You’re Barney Thomson?’ said Alpha Hugo Weaving. ‘This is Keanu MacPherson, and the hunchback is Igor?’
The men of the shop chose to neither confirm nor deny.
‘Igor only seems to have one name, like he’s a Brazilian footballer?’ said Omega Hugo Weaving, and again none of the men answered.
‘I’ll be blunt, Mr Thomson,’ said Alpha Hugo Weaving.
‘Please,’ said Barney. ‘And then you can fuck off.’
‘Interesting. You’re needed in Westminster. Pack a bag, you’re coming with us.’
‘No,’ said Keanu, the single syllable coming out slightly strangled, then he shook his head to try to expunge the ejaculation, and took a drink of tea.
‘I don’t think I will b –’
‘We understand you worked as personal barber for the three previous male prime ministers. The current incumbent, who we can’t name for security reasons, has problem hair, and he’d like you to come and do for him what you did for the others.’
‘I’d sooner shoot myself in the face.’
‘That can be arranged,’ Omega Hugo Weaving predictably chipped in.
‘That won’t be necessary,’ said Alpha Hugo Weaving. ‘Mr Thomson, we have a helicopter waiting to take us to Abbotsinch, from where the Prime Minister’s private jet will take us to London. You have an appointment to cut his hair at twenty-one hundred hours this evening.’
‘I’m busy,’ said Barney.
‘Pack that bag, Mr Thomson, the helicopter leaves in ten.’
A tense silence settled upon the shop. They’d all been here before, that moment when the brusque government officials arrived to whisk Barney away. It never ended well. Usually people died.
‘Can you let your people know,’ said Barney, ‘that I now possess a German passport, which I was able to get because of my mother’s grandmother, Helga Rubenstein, who fled to the UK in the late nineteenth century.’ He paused to allow the information to sink in, then he added, ‘So tell the Prime Minister, I’m an EU citizen. E. U. Let him know.’
They stared at each other from a few feet in the silence of the shop. Igor’s eyes were wide with anticipation. Keanu was on tenterhooks, albeit, he didn’t know what tenterhooks actually were.
Barney made the banner headline gesture, then said, ‘PM Flies In EU Citizen For Hair Cut, Undermines Entire UK Industry.’ He paused, then added, ‘Also Buys Oranges From Spain.’
Although Alpha Hugo Weaving was still staring at him, Barney could tell his eyes glazed over as he focussed on something else.
‘Did you get all of that?’ said Alpha Hugo Weaving into space.
The response, coming from some remote location, was lost on the others in the shop, and then suddenly, on the snap of someone else’s fingers, Alpha Hugo Weaving turned on a sixpence, nodded at Omega Hugo Weaving, opened the door and was gone.
Omega Hugo Weaving paused on the threshold, looked menacingly at Barney – albeit without really managing to pull it off – said, ‘We’ll be back,’ and then closed the door behind them.
Two seconds later they were out of sight, and the small drama was over.
The men of the shop watched the space where they’d been, they stared across the road at the white promenade wall and the gulls and the sea and the land and the sky, and then somewhere in the town a bell began to strike six.
‘I take it you don’t really have a German passport,’ said Keanu after a while.
‘No.’
‘They might check that and come back,’ he said.
Barney nodded.
‘Aye,’ he said. ‘I’ll need to think of a Plan B.’
‘You think you could stand behind Boris with a pair of scissors and not stab him in the back of the head?’
‘Let’s not find out.’
They each took a drink of tea, the bells finished their chimes, late afternoon continued to slowly fade across the land.
‘Wait,’ said Keanu after a while. ‘That guy said you’d cut the hair of the three previous male prime ministers. I thought when you cut Cameron’s hair, it ended up all just being a dream sequence?’
Igor stiffened, took a hurried drink of tea, glanced uncomfortably to his side.
Barney, altogether the coolest customer of the three, slowly shrugged.
‘No one knows, son, ‘ he said. ‘No one really knows anything at all…’