Old Farmer Frack’s Haircut

Old Farmer Frack usually cut his own hair, hacking at it with a pair of shears, but one day he left his cows in the care of a hired urchin and strode to the nearest village to seek out a barber. There was no barber in the village, so Old Farmer Frack carried on along the lane until he came to another village. Here he found, not a barber, but a hairdresser. Unlike many hairdressing establishments, which are fond of punning names such as Hair Apparent or A Cut Above and so on and so forth, this one was called simply Rudimentary Hairdressing For Peasants, which suited Old Farmer Frack down to the ground.

He crashed in through the door, threw himself into a chair, and as the mildly startled hairdresser tucked a sheet around him, he bellowed that he wanted a “chop suey”.

The hairdresser had no idea what this mad old farmer was talking about and tried to explain that the only haircut available was a rudimentary one suitable for a peasant.

Old Farmer Frack shouted that as far as he was concerned, a “chop suey” was a basic haircut, and commanded the hairdresser to get on with it.

Hairdressers are not cows, however, and are much less tractable. This particular hairdresser took much pride in her work, and was not about to embark upon a haircut the lineaments of which she was ignorant. So she asked Old Farmer Frack to describe the “chop suey”. As farmers go, Old Farmer Frack was a highly intelligent man with an acute visual sense and a more than serviceable vocabulary, but he was also mad, so in reply to the hairdresser he blathered a scarcely intelligible farrago of nonsense. So persuasive was his tone of voice, however, that the hairdresser was spellbound and convinced that she actually had some understanding of what he was saying. No sooner had he shut his trap than she hacked at his hair with a pair of pruning shears, for all the world as if she had been practising the “chop suey” for years.

Old Farmer Frack was well pleased with the result, gave the hairdresser a generous tip in addition to the cost of the haircut, crashed out through the door and wended his way jauntily back to his cows.

Several days later, stories appeared in the local newspapers reporting that “an apparition of the late novelist Anthony Burgess has been seen stalking the lanes of our bailiwick”.

For the awful truth was that Old Farmer Frack’s “chop suey” could easily be mistaken for the preposterous Mancunian polymath’s haircut, memorably described by his biographer Roger Lewis as follows: And how are we going to describe his hair? The yellowish-white powdery strands were coiled on his scalp like Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s peruke, not maintained since Prince Vlad the Impaler fought off the Turks in the Carpathian mountains in 1462. What does it say about a man that he could go around like that, as Burgess did? Though he was a king of the comb-over (did the clumps and fronds emanate from his ear-hole?), no professional barber can be blamed for this. I thought to myself, he has no idea how strange he is. What did he think he looked like? He evidently operated on his own head with a pair of garden shears.

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