Big thank you from

A barber's life is not a happy one

by The Rambler 02/02/01

AGHALEE man Joe Morgan was a perfectionist

Anything he did had to be done right. No one had ever been able to match his skill as a weaver of willow rods and when demand for potato baskets and yeast hampers suddenly collapsed at the time of the outbreak of the last war he was devastated.

His ego was hard hit, as well as his pocket.

He found a job as part-time postman, but there was no way he could support a wife and family on the meagre pay for that.

His only hope was his hobby as a barber. From his teenage years he had obliged locals and found no difficulty in making as good a job of trimming hair as the professionals in the town, at a fraction of the charge.

He decided to have a go at building up the trade, as he had a great taste for it.

Firstly, he cycled over 20 miles to Smithfield in Belfast for the latest in hairdressers' tools. Then be converted the workshop in which he had made baskets into a barber's shop.

He had no need for a sniped pole, for in Cairnall the word soon spread that Joe Morgan was doing hair-cuts for 'a tanner a skull', that is, six old pence, and shaves for fourpence

Mrs Morgan put linoleum on the floor of the hut and pretty curtains on the windows. Then she added nice colourful towels and shoulder cloths, and Joe invested in a professional-style barber' s chair.

In winter he kept a nice turf fire in the grate and soon the place was doing well, very well, for on Friday and Saturday evenings it became a Mecca for all the local spinners and all seats were taken. The craic was good.

Then 'the menace' appeared. Jimmy Mullan's daughter had brought home a pompous conceited Cockney ex-soldier called Dickie, who insisted on being addressed as 'Major Dickie'. If anyone called him 'mister' they were pertly admonished 'My name is Major Dickie, if you please.'

He was the most objectionable type imaginable, always minding other folk's business and a real barrack-room lawyer type. Every time he came into the barber's shop sparks flew.

He was an abrasive character who could have started a row in an empty room - a 'mister know all'! There were a lot of local turf men who were Joe's customers, and several of them declared that they would have loved to have got him into the moss so that they could put him in a hole.

One night his bike had gone when he came out of the barber's shop.

A lighterman came on it the next day in the Turtle Dove' lock of the Lagan canal.

Dickie had Sergeant Russell on the case immediately but the Cairnall closely-knit community knew nothing about anything when police made enquiries. It was an open secret that the village prankster, Sammy Totten, had done the job.

The major's constant nattering about public health requirements got up Joe Morgan's nose, and other people's too, for the barber and his wife were the most fastidious pair in the parish.

'You could lick meal off Annie Morgan's kitchen floor' was how Jane Lougran put it.

According to Dickie, combs, razors, brushes, and other tools needed sterilising after each customer, the floor had to be scrubbed out daily with Condy's fluid, all hairs had to be swept up immediately and removed from the shop, clean shawls for each customer were mandatory, and personalised shaving mugs. His sanitary inspector must be sleeping or he would have had the place closed down.

The veiled threat about the sanitary inspector worried the Morgan's so much that the first time the local dispensary doctor. Dr Watson, came to see a sick child. Annie Morgan 'boned him' as Joe said. Doctor Watson had a look at the setup and promptly sat down and got a short-back and sides.

'Joe' he said. 'Don't worry about the sanitary officer I have a say in public health matters too, you know!'

When the doctor became a regular customer. Dickie went quiet for a while but before long he was whining again.

The local schoolmaster. Mr Galvin, a Cork man, was also a regular customer and Dickie and he crossed swords many times. Galvin told him on one occasions in public that the only pips he deserved were orange pips, and asked him had he got his stripes from his regiment for 'yacking'.

Dickie was livid, and threatened libel action. The Master laughed at him, which enraged him more.

The Master had an odd hobby - when a local men had pork pigs ready for slaughter he would drop in with a tape measure and give the owner an estimate of the porker's likely dead weight.

Later he would inspect the sales docket to see how close he had come. He called when he heard that Joe had a couple of pigs for Lisburn market and the pair of them had a long chat about how to muzzle Dickie.

The master said: "Leave it to me, Joe, I'll think of something."

To be concluded.

Ulster Star