She gave me a shilling once, but that was long before I sat in the barber’s chair.
He and I started on summer holidays, but went quickly from that to Kurdish politics, as we always do. Those of us, admittedly only those of us of a certain age, who get our hair cut in the wonderful Kurdish barbers by the bus station in Midhurst, know that you get the full works (eyebrows, nostrils, ears) done at no extra cost if you show a little conversational interest in what is going on in southern Turkey.
‘You look so young, and so good,’ he said when he had finished, ‘that your wife will be jealous of all the other women.’
‘You reckon?’ I asked.
‘No, not really,’ he replied with a sigh. ‘But you will leave here happy.’
‘Let me ask you one thing,’ he went on as I paid his modest bill. ‘You were only in here a month ago, and now you are back again.’ Normally, I leave it until three months, or when even the dog shows signs of thinking I look moth-eaten, whichever comes first. ‘Why so soon?’
I thought about it as I went about my errands, and couldn’t for the life of me work it out. As it was, it was only half way home, at the dangerous little junction my children always referred to as ‘Mandalay’ on the school runs, that the real reason struck me like a sledge hammer.
I had gone to get my hair cut because I wanted to look half-decent for the Queen’s funeral.
This is so irrational as to be almost incomprehensible. I am not going to the funeral. I am not even going to be lining the route for the funeral. I will be in Cornwall, on holiday. I didn’t know the Queen, nor she me. My hair wasn’t even particularly untidy, in that, even if she had known me, even if I was sitting in the front row of Westminster Abbey, no one would have noticed, let alone minded. No, laughable though it is, I did it because, so deep in me that I never even knew about it, I felt I owed it to her. Just one tiny, meaningless, pitiful gesture that was my way of going out of my way for her, for the first time that her life and mine coincided on this planet.
People far more eloquent than me have written about how they feel, and what they miss, and I agree with most of them, certainly to the extent of not feeling the need to add my thoughts to everyone else’s. I never knew that I really meant all those things until the day she died, when I instantly knew I had.
But she gave me that shilling once. And that was just the start of it.