Shampoo Planet

It was something as mundane as needing a haircut which finally brought home to me that this dusty madhouse of a city is now my home.

Of all the memorable phrases coined by Vancouver’s finest, Douglas Coupland, none has stuck with me more than the credo his protagonist Tyler espouses early on in his second novel, Shampoo Planet: “Hair is your document”. (1)

It made me smile then, as it still does now, partly because it’s so ridiculous and partly because it’s so true.

At the time Shampoo Planet was published, chronicling a label-obsessed youth culture I neither recognised nor desired to join, I was a student and getting my hair cut at the grimiest barbers you’ve ever seen. None of the characters in Coupland’s book would go within a hundred miles of it.

Its name was Cyril Jones.

Razor blades hung suspended in mysterious neon coloured vials of sterilising fluid. A questionable attitude to health and safety permeated the air. Promotional keyrings: yours for 20p.

Naturally, I loved it; so did the rest of my housemates. Being students, we ‘adopted’ it, gave it an ironic nickname – coiffure pour homme – and visited Orange Street more often than was strictly necessary to put our sartorial lives on the line for the sake of a laugh.

I haven’t thought about Cyril’s for years, and then, wouldn’t you know it, two things happened this week to take me right back there.

One was reconnecting with one of my aforementioned housemates on Twitter (now rocking a great look which requires no tonsorial attention whatsoever) and then again when Amnesiac and I made our Doha barbershop debut this week.

And it was that visit which really hit home to me that this dusty madhouse of a city isn’t just somewhere I’m visiting.

It’s now my home.

Having never been an expat before I can only go by my own experience, but if you are now, or have ever been one, I’m willing to bet there was a moment – probably small, maybe trivial, possibly banal – when the penny dropped that wherever you were wasn’t just the venue for an extended vacation, but your actual key-in-the-door, hi-honey-I’m-home, home.

For me, it was the need to get my haircut, because waking up on a weekend morning and heading off to the barbers seems very much like the kind of thing you do where you live. And this weekend, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Those efforts included me and Amnesiac paying a visit to our local barbershop back in the UK at the proverbial 11th hour: the morning of the day we emigrated.

We wanted to buy as much time as possible to find our feet in Doha before we needed to put the most prominent of our features in the hands of a stranger with limited English.

(Turns out it’s quite hard to mime “shave it with a grade 3 at the sides and back, a little off the top, but you might need to do some thinning cause it’s a jungle up there, and tapered at the back, please”. But I gave it go anyway.)

The Haircut Satisfaction Graph (c)

Because hair really is your document. Even if you’re only paying a few quid, you still want to go somewhere that works for you; where you feel comfortable.

Because we’ve all had appalling haircuts – even those of us in the “shorter, please” camp – which make us feel like shaving it all off and weeping. It’s a very public error, which leads to a bad hair month before you have to risk it all over again somewhere else. (And that’s not to mention the emotions you go through during the actual cut itself.)

The place we visited was a recommendation from a neighbour. Here in Doha, there are basically two schools of thought when it comes to eating, shopping and grooming, colloquially known as ‘five star or no star’. (Coupland’s label-obsessed Global Teens, now in their late-thirties to mid-forties, would love, love, love it here.)

And whilst I love a bit of pampering, I enjoy it because it’s a rare treat; my heart sits more in the no star camp. Some overpriced salon at an international hotel or the magnificently-monickered Turkish Saloon For Man? It’s no contest.

Like Cyril’s, Turkish Saloon isn’t the cleanest place you’ll ever visit. And like Cyril’s it’s quick, efficient and cheap. (So cheap in fact – 30 Riyals, just over a fiver – that it cost me less in actual terms than a notorious haircut I got in the late ‘80s when I found myself by mistake in a salon rather than a barbers.

What the half-used jar of honey is for is anyone’s guess.

I think that one cost about £7 on the day, which would have been a rip off last week, never mind 20+ years ago. I remember my mum being distinctly unimpressed. And the haircut wasn’t even that great, either.)

We had a blast. As is the way in a new culture, even the things that ostensibly seem the same are slightly different. (And just like Kid A and the Leap of Faith, I made Amnesiac go first. If it was going to go pear-shaped, it wasn’t going to happen to my head.)

The barber was regularly distracted by the Turkish TV channel blaring out from the corner of the shop; the shelves groaned with mysterious products I suspect haven’t been sold anywhere else for a decade; and the barber went gel crazy with Amnesiac, treating him to an unasked-for, but strangely fetching, Mohican.

As for me, I came away pretty pleased with the end result. This despite my cut ending, not with the icy thrill of cold steel shaving my neck, but with the careful clipping of…my eyebrows.

Now, I am just about the twitchiest person you will ever meet. I jump in surprise and horror at the slightest provocation, so a man armed with scissors, advancing towards my eyes with no warning… well, it could have ended really badly.

As it was, he’s made me look semi-respectable and given me a whole new sign of aging to worry about.

Thanks, I think.

You know pretty quickly if a place is right for you. And there was a vibe – I’d love to say ‘shabby chic’, but it was probably just ‘shabby’ – about the Turkish Saloon For Man which made me feel at home straight away: Cyril’s-on-the-Gulf.

We’ll be back.

(1) “Hair is important.
Your hair is you – your tribe – it’s your badge of clean. Hair is your document.
What’s on top of your head says what’s inside your head.”


5 thoughts on “Shampoo Planet

  1. Kean Walmsley (@keanw) October 19, 2012 / 7:33 pm

    Great post!

    I’ve been an expat since 3 years out of Uni, so the “oh crap” moments tend to blur into each other (after a while you start to get them on trips back to the UK – now that’s scary).

    You lot always talked about Cyril’s but I never actually went myself: I didn’t visit a barber’s (or a salon, for that matter) between the ages of 15 and 23, and wasn’t about to start there.

    “What’s on top of your head says what’s inside your head.”

    Sadly rather accurate, these days. Sigh.

  2. Matt Grainger October 26, 2012 / 2:39 am

    True story: I still have my white faux leather, gold embossed Cyril Jones keyring.

    • littlecity October 26, 2012 / 5:02 am

      White? Wow. That must have been some kind of limited edition: kudos. But you’re not alone; I left my black one, with fading gold lettering, back in the UK when we moved. Didn’t want to risk it going awol mid-move…

  3. Dunx November 5, 2012 / 2:28 pm

    I do remember Cyrils, my mistake, made only once, was to get a wash and cut… after that I only ever got a cut. As for being an expat well it hits home mostly when I go back to England and stand in the airport listening to the lady on the Tannoy in her ‘oh so English accent’ telling me where to collect my bags. Oh and once I’m in the rental car I spend the first few minutes locking and unlocking my door as I try to change gear!
    After that its beer and friends.

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