by Laurence Clark
BBC Ouch 11th January 2009
Anyone who knows me will confirm that I’m not overtly fashion conscious. In fact, until 6 months ago, I got my personal assistant to cut my hair with clippers. However, last summer my wife Adele persuaded me to try a swanky, expensive gent’s barber. I was not only impressed with the results but also the price – a wet cut being a snip at a mere ten quid.
In my complete naivety of all things hair-related, I thought this was a fairly reasonable price to pay for a trim. It wasn’t until I got home and told Adele that I realised I’d been given an unofficial ‘pat on the head’ disabled person’s discount. Perusal of the prices on the barber’s website revealed that, in actual fact, I should have paid a whopping £24. That’s nearly a 60% reduction just for being the object of somebody’s pity.
Since then I’ve gone back there approximately once a month because I really like the way they style my hair. But every time I go to pay, my stylist conspiratorially whispers something into the ear of the woman behind the counter, whereupon she thinks up a seemingly random amount to charge me between nine and twelve pounds. On my last visit the stylist went a stage further and directly asked my PA for payment instead of me. I suppose, from his perspective, he was just cutting out the middle man.
Some of you may be of the opinion that my sounding off about being undercharged could appear more than a little ungrateful, especially when we’re in the middle of a credit crunch. Others may well be asking what sort of mug would be stupid enough to pay twenty-four quid for a quick trim in the first place. But I really do believe there’s an important point of principle at stake here.
You see, my inner coward thinks that I should just say nothing and go with the flow for the sake of a quiet life. But this means I end up coming away from the barbers feeling thoroughly devalued, humiliated and frustrated. If I do say something though, I put myself in the awkward situation of having to explain why I object to being charged less and inevitably end up making a scene in front of all the other customers. Neither course of action particularly appeals to me, especially considering that all I really want out of a visit to a barber shop is a decent haircut.
This is by no means the first time I’ve unintentionally been on the receiving end of the ‘pity pound’. My personal record for not being charged was set during my student days when I managed to get from my front door in Liverpool to Edinburgh Waverley train station without parting with a single penny. The taxi driver who drove me to my local station refused to take the fare, and no less than two train managers failed to ask me for the ticket I’d not had a chance to buy before boarding the train. The second one even went to the buffet car to get me a free cup of coffee. I arrived in Edinburgh convinced someone had sneakily tattooed “Do Not Take This Person’s Money” across my forehead whilst I was looking the other way.
Although at the time I was quite glad of these patronising perks as I was still an impoverished student, nowadays I find them more irritating.
This is why I have come up with a unique solution to my barber shop problem. I’m going to get as many disabled people as I can to book consecutive appointments with my stylist on a particular day and ask them all to insist on the old ‘pat on the head’ discount. With any luck this should teach him a lesson or, at the very least, put a dent in the profits. Anyone fancy a discount wet trim?