Joe Corrie


WHEN Walter Wamphrey, the undertaker, knocked on my door the ither nicht an asked me if I'd gie his hair a trim I wisna ower keen to dae the job, no that I havena got the necessary skill for I was born wi the naitral gift o barberin', but Walter is a dapper wee dandy an fancies himsel a lot ; an hivin to tak his hat aff sae aften in the course o his professional duties-weel, it was a job for a barber withoot specs, the steady hand o youth, an the help o electricity.

But it was the monthly holiday in the toon, an he was due that nicht to deliver a sang-lecture in Kirkinner, to the Rural. I tried to hide my astonishment when he telt me that for Walter haes a pipe like a tin-whistle. Hooever, that was nane o my business ; if Rurals must be entertained by a' an sundry that's their ain leuk-oot.

"Juist a wee groom up, Mr Laurie," says he, "to freshen me up a bit, an keep the e'en o the ladies on me. He! He! He!" I made the excuise that my e'en werena what they were ; that we only haed the paraffin lamp, an that I haedna haed much practice o late, but he said he haed absolute faith in my reputation. Sae I asked him in, an put him in the kitchen till I got my shearin' appliances.

Maggie turned as white as a sheet when I telt her. She haes the superstition that when an undertaker enters a hoose it's the sign o some tragic disaster to follow. An altho I'm no a superstitious man I haed a wee feelin that Walter haed brocht a braith o impendin' trouble wi him.

When I got into the kitchen Walter was in front o the leukin-gless admirin himsel an twirlin' his waxed moustache which, I noticed, haed been gettin' a course o intensive cultivation since the last time I'd seen him. He haed gotten it into classical form, aboot three inches on each side, an perfeckly balanced.

But Walter thocht it was a wee bit ragged, an a fraction o an inch ower lang, which was inclined to cause a wee blemish on his guid leuks, an he asked me if I'd reduce it by a fraction on baith sides. I juist telt hint to sit doon, put twa towels roond him, then shut the kitchen door, for Maggie kens far better hoo to cut hair than I dae. I polished my specs, then worked the shears a bit to exercise my fingers an let the patient see that I haed the professional touch, an decided to dae the moustache first. Sae I got in front o him, planted my feet firmly on the fluir, decided to dae the richt hand side first, teuk a lang braith, bent doon, an clipped. Then I did the same again an performed the operation on the ither side. But when I wiped the steam o the ordeal frae my specs I discovered that I haed taen mair aff the left than I haed duin aff the richt, sae I haed anither snip at the richt, but when I leuked again I saw that I haed taen mair aff there than I should, sae ower I went to the ither side. An, hang me. if the same thing didna happen.

But I couldna spend the hale nicht on a moustache, sae I juist said, "Weal, that's that, Waiter, an noo I'll get doon to your heid." He thanked me very graciously. An when I started to run the comb throu his hair he started to sing-hivin a wee bit practice, he said, before the lecture. Noo, there's nae man in a barber's chair should tra-la-lee! especially when he canna ; it's no juist annoyin', it's painfully distractin', an if there's onything that ca's for silent concentration it's barberin'. But the customer is always richt, an I couldna complain. Sae I got haud o the clippers an ran them three inches up the back o his heid. It was only then I noticed that I haedna put on the gaird which gie ye the guarantee that you'll no tak ower much aff, an there I was leukin at three inches by two o bare skin.

"Your clippers are gaun fine an easy, Mr Lowrie," says he. "A man canna dae an artistic job wi bad tools," says I. "That's what I aye think when I'm makkin a coffin," says he, "even altho it's only seen for a brief period on this earth." His mention o coffins reminded me o Maggie's superstition aboot undertakers, an I was beginnin to realise there was something in it. It was wi a tremblin band that I put the gaird on the clippers, makkin the excuise that my specs were steamin', but, tra-la-lee! he was quite comfortable. I haed a closer scrutiny o the damage I haed duin an I saw that it was gaun to ca' for a' my ingenuity to rectify it, for yinca hair haes been cut aff there's nae method kent to science-yet- that can put it back on again. There's aye the buit-blackin' method, o coorse, but it's no permanent, an quite unsuitable in the case o a dandy undertaker. But I thocht I'd be safer to dispense wi the clippers, an work carefully wi the shears. I did a lot o extrae clip-clip-clippin' withoot cuttin' ony hair to convey the impression that I kent my job, but it was to gie me time to think, but the damage I haed duin was gaun to be very difficult o solution.

But Walter thocht I was gettin' on fine an askked me if I minded him hivin a wee rehearsal o his comin lecture. I said it wad be a pleasure to me. Sae while I manoeuvred up an doon, an roon' aboot the bald patch, he talked aboot the beauties o Scottish sang, when they were properly sung, as he wad sing them in the course o 'his lecture, tra-la-lee!

But my confidence haed gone completely, an the mair I clipped the mair I realised that the damage I haed duin was beyond repair. Sae while he went throu his lecture I manipulated on the tap o his heid. Walter haes a heid like an egg, an, naturally the shears are inclined to cut mair aff the tap, an that means that you've got to cut mair than ye intended aff the sides. Sae there I was again wi anither problem. By this time he was leukin mair like a piebald than an undertaker, but he was busy wi "Corn Rigs are Bonnie, O," an seein himsel much admired by the ladies o the Rural.

I was in twa minds whether to finish an caa it a day, as the young yins say, or start a' ower again, when Maggie cam ben wi Walter's wife. Noo, Walter's wife is a tremendous wumman, six feet if she's an inch, an built in proportion-she plays golf to keep hersel fit, an she speaks very polite. "Walter, darlin," she says, "it's time we were gaun to the bus." Then she said to me, "Is the operation nearly ower, Mr Laurie?" I said it was, an divested him o the towels. But when Walter got to his feet his wife cam oot wi a scream that dirled the dish covers on the dresser. "My goodness!" she yelled, "he haes ruined your heid for life."

Walter jumped to his feet an ran his hand doon the back o his heid. Then he leuked at me an said, "Deliberate sabotage," whatever that means. Then his wife saw his moustache an screamed again. Walter went to the leukin-gless ad staggered. "Sir," he shouted at me, "I will sue you for damages!"

Then Maggie asked me if I was gettin' peyed for the job. "No," says I, "anither labour o love." Sae Maggie juist telt Walter that it was a proper hair-cut for the kind o face he haed. Then ye should hae heard Walter's wife; roarin at Maggie in washin-hoose Scotch, ca'in' her for this an that, an shakin her kneive in her face. An when she stopped to tak a braith Maggie set aboot her, shakin twa kneives. Then they baith yelled at each ither gaun back for generations an talkin aboot sheep-stealin, an Wigtown jile, an folk lucky no to be hanged. Oh, a terrible rakin' up on baith sides. While Walter stuid leukin at his face in the leukin-gless, an the tears fallin' doon baith cheeks an splashin' on his spats.

The last I saw o Walter was him bein pou'd frae the room an trailin' on the taes o his fancy shuin. Maggie follaed them to get the last wirds. An as I put the clippers back in their box I could hear Maggie shoutin', "Caller herrin, three a penny!" Ye see, Mrs Wamphrey's faither used to gaun roon' the toon wi a cuddy an cairt sellin' herrin. An Maggie couldna let her aff wi that.