David Beckham's Left Ear

The World Cup 2006. 32 Teams, 736 Players, 64 Matches. But it's not about the football, it's about the hair. That's why the England football team hired the most infamous barber on Planet Earth. Barney Thomson. However, even his legendary barbetorial skills could not help them take a penalty kick. And so, with England gone, Barney has been signed by Zidane and the French, as they make their bid for beautifully coiffeured World Cup glory.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

So, another day closer to the quarter-final. You’d think the place would be buzzing. However, a strange quiet has settled over the hotel. An uneasy quiet, a bizarre atmosphere. I was having trouble understanding it. Spoke to Neville, can never remember which one of the two of them he is. He’s taken on a senior statesman type quality. I said to him about the strange mood.
“You know, Mr Thomson,” he began. They’re all calling me Mr Thomson now. I suppose they mean me respect, but by God it’s accelerating my decent into mid-life-crisisdom. I’m not that much older than these guys, that’s what I was thinking, but then, I was almost thirty when Scotland were shamed in Argentina, and most of this mob were still in disposables, or not even born yet. Walcott’s father hadn’t even been born yet. So, yes, I am a lot bloody older than them. “Thing is, Mr Thomson,” he says, “we’ve got all this expectation at home, and what’s it based on? None of us have ever been to a final at this level, or even a semi-final. We’ve never won a quarter-final. We lost to Northern Ireland last year for goodness sake. Basically, we’re mince, but we get talked up as champions. How does that happen? The chances of us winning are minimal. And then, what if we do? What if you achieve your life’s ambition at the age of thirty-one, or worse, at the age of twenty? Imagine you’re Wayne Rooney, and you score the winning goal in the World Cup final when you’re twenty years old. Where are you going to go from there? The guy’s a footballer. He’s not going to go and write a Booker winner or discover the cure for xenophobia. He’s a footballer.”
“You’re saying you’re almost in a no-win situation?” I said, as I swung dramatically across the back of his neck with a number two razor attachment.
“That would seem a mentalist thing to say,” he said, “and the press would kill me for it, but yes. It was bad enough for those fellas in ’66, but imagine the pressure on you now as an individual being a World Cup winner in our country. Look at the cricket and rugby teams, and they’re not a patch on the footie in terms of pressure, name recognition etc. The rugby team won the World Cup, have barely beaten anyone since. We even lose to Scotland these days for goodness sake. The cricket team, won the Ashes, then the team just fell apart.”
He went into a sullen silence, as I swept majestically round the ears. I used to hate ears, but they’re not so much of a problem now.
“When you retire you can look back on a life of achievement,” I said eventually.
“If you make it to retirement age,” he replied sullenly.
Maybe he’s got a point.
I got out a little today, for a walk into town. A lot of England fans about, they seemed fairly subdued as well. The first two days without football in the middle of the tournament are always like this, that’s what they say. The calm before the storm. Worried if they get knocked out, nervous about going through.
They say that the Scotland squad in the stand were horrified when Archie Gemmill scored to put us 3-1 up against Holland, as they were all so desperate to go home. They got their wish.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You get them all in when you run a barber shop. Everyone needs their hair cut after all, and men are creatures of habit. Women might go looking for the best stylist, the fanciest shop, the place where you get the best coffee. Guys just want a chair with a mirror in front of it.
So I had Sepp Blatter in today. I didn’t know who he was when he arrived, but when he left thirty minutes later, I knew all about him. He didn’t shut up. Talked mostly about himself, occasionally about the game of football, although even when he did that it was in relation to Sepp Blatter. I could’ve cut his hair in about five seconds, but he kept asking for all sorts of alterations and frou-frou. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the Pope had an audience with him at 11:00, I’d likely never have got him out. I got the full son-of-a-poor-copper-miner story, followed by his rise to prominence, and then all his ideas for the development of the game. A referee in each half…the World Cup every two years…renaming the World Cup, The Sepp Blatter World Championship…bigger goals…fewer league games in Europe, more internationals…playing some Spanish, Italian and English league games in America…and so he went on.
“People say this whole tournament is rigged,” he said, waving a hand in the air. I had tried to switch off, but there was something about the tone of his voice, the demonic Swiss accent, “But how can it be? We are not rigged, the Sepp Blatter tournament is not rigged. People say to me, Sepp Blatter, we all know that Germany will lose the final 2-1 to Brazil, but I say, that is nonsense. All this talk is nonsense.” I think I might have tried to get a word in at that point, but his talk was a continuous stream. “But the referees, they are terrible, and I will say that until I am Sepp Blatter no more. If Sepp Blatter was a referee, he would have sent off Thierry Henry for cheating last night. But no, the man clutches his face because he gets hit on the chest, and the referee hands him the game. Sepp Blatter is not happy that his tournament is being corrupted like this.”
He left soon after. I’d given him the blue hair and goatee that he’d asked for. Said that he’d be back in for another cut on the morning of the final. I said that I might be busy with the England lads that day, and he just laughed.
I maintain a decent relationship with the team. An ok bunch of guys. We have that whole English-Scottish banter going on. At breakfast this morning they were taking the piss something rotten about the fact that there are three World Cup quarter-finalists in Scotland’s Euro 2008 qualifying group. To be honest, I couldn’t actually tell you who they are, but I played along. I brought up Kenny Dalglish scoring against Clemence at Hampden, they brought up Stewart Kennedy.
Nobody talks about the horrible demise of my predecessor anymore, and there’s been no further mention of the Beckham implant thing. It’s almost as if people are more interested in the football. However, there’s obviously something going on just beneath the surface of the whole tournament. Something sinister, and something malicious. And it’s up to me, Barney Thomson the Barber, to completely ignore it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

When you’re a barber you pick things up. People talk. It’s as if they think there’s this law of barber-customer confidentiality. An unwritten law, but a law all the same. Like talking to your priest or your bank manager or the nurse who runs the headache clinic at the local health centre. But it’s all based on misplaced trust. Sure there’s a few out there, old school, who are unlikely to pass anything on, but these days, the younger generation, they don’t care. I’ve heard barbers telling the next customer about the previous guy’s erectile malfunction. You might get lucky but basically, if you care to share when you’re in the chair, expect to read about it in the papers the next day.
Yesterday, a guy comes in from the FA, no idea who he was. One of the many hundreds of guys in suits who are here on a freebie to follow their team. He was looking for a haircut, and looking to see how his investment was coming along. Sits down, asks for a Roy Orbison. I asked him if he was serious, and he seemed to be, so I went for it. That look’s a little forty years ago, and even then it was outlawed hair in over twenty of the United States. That’s why Roy Orbison never played North Dakota.
He gets chatting. Talked about the Portugal game mostly, the furore over Figo. The guy said, “To be honest, it wasn’t actually a headbutt was it, you go down a boozer on a Saturday night in Bath and ask someone to give you a headbutt, it won’t be anything like what Figo did, that was more of a girlie tap with the forehead, and then the way Van Bommel fell, it was laughable, but you know, we’re still making moves to get Figo banned from the game, because if that lot are going to be underhand and cheat, we might as well do our bit, but in a more British way, you know, sneaky while pretending to be above board, although to be fair, who cares if Figo plays because he’s mince, although he does have that whole iconic vibe that they need, it’s probably more about that than about him being a goal threat as such.”
Anyway, that wasn’t the interesting part of what he said. He talked and talked. England, women, German beer, Nietzsche, the usual things. Then he starts talking about the ‘whole KPMG thing’ and how it was all going to blow up in their faces. “I mean, seriously,” he said, “you can’t just secretly put implants into the heads of likes of Beckham and Ronaldinho and Zidane and think people aren’t going to find out about it.”
He stopped, caught my eye in the mirror. Then he laughed. “It’s all a joke, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, I’m free-thinking here, just firing from the hip, making stuff up. Improvisational comedy.”
I applied the right amount of fixative for a Roy Orbison, and the guy was on his way, looking at me suspiciously. As if I knew too much. Which I did, because he’d just told me.
Maybe I need to speak to Otto again, to find out more about this implants business. Or maybe I just need to keep my nose out of it. Any way you look at it, I’m not old school. Not yet.
Saw Lampard last night, looking exceptionally grumpy.
“Apparently I’ve had more shots at goal than anyone else in the tournament,” he said. “How many goals? None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Bugger all.”
I nodded sympathetically.
“Maybe I need new hair,” he said.
“Anything you want, Chief, you’re the boss,” I said.
And off he walked, muttering about a Flock of Seagulls or a Paul Gascoigne ’96.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Busy weekend. World Cup, last 16 elimination stage. Millions of people watching around the world, it’s important to these players that their hair looks ok. You know, there’d been all the stramash with management about me being brought in, but when it came to it, the group stages were out the way, and they were stepping up to the big stage, they all showed up at my door. The coach also popped in for a brush-up on his Dracula cut, and had a look of satisfaction on his wee face.
“It’s all about money, Mr Thomson,” he said. He’s taken to calling me Mr Thomson every time he speaks to me, and with the heavily accented English, he sounds more and more like the villain in a Bond movie monologuing extensively, just before Bond shoots him. “When you sell your house, you might paint the bedroom. Does this make it any better a house? No. But it makes the person buying your house give you an extra five thousand of your pounds. Why? Because it is about presentation. It is the same with footballers. These people are playing for their next contracts. If they put in a good footballing show, for sure they might get a deal with Barca or Real. But if the hair is right, that deal can be worth ten thousand euros a week more.”
He left, smiling broadly as another couple of players appeared for their touch up, on his way to the swimming pool, dressed in a natty pair of orange Speedos. Enormous wedgie, I couldn’t help noticing, although I think he intentionally cultivates wedgies in the hope that some young woman or other is going to give him a hand extracting the material from his backside.
I was taken along to the game so that I could do a bit of emergency work at half-time. Spent most of the break on Beckham. Didn’t actually watch the game itself. Took along a book – Henning Mankell, The Fifth Woman, I like a good bit of crime – and popped my feet up on a desk and lost myself in Swedish gloom for forty-five minutes each half. Drank five cups of coffee. This little Turkish fellow kept coming in with coffee and doughnuts. I only had two doughnuts.
The guys were pumped after the game. Course they were. Beckham especially. He came looking for me and gave me an enormous bearhug. Credited me with the goal. Said he couldn’t have curled the free-kick in if it hadn’t been for his hair.

You'll remember the thing that I've been told by the mysterious Otto, that there's been some device implanted in Beckham's head behind his left ear. Had a quick look, couldn't see anything, but didn't really have the time for a full inspection. When he came round in the morning, we were in a total time crunch; and half-time, well that was no time for close examination of his napper.
They all sat and watched the Holland-Portugal acting-fest in the evening. I loved the guy who Figo headbutted, who forgot to fall down straight away, then suddenly dropped like a bomb from a B-52 when he remembered that part of being a footballer is to try to cheat. Load of pants. The lads were ribbing me about watching that game, when I hadn’t paid any attention to the England match.
“Aye, but there are decent footballers in this one,” I quipped.
Some of them took me seriously – which was fair enough – and went in the huff, most of them laughed. One of them hit me on the back of the head with an over-ripe guava. Think it was Terry. I knew it was guava because I recognised the smell from the shampoo I’ve got in the shop.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Had a referee in today which was a bit of a shock. The English fellow from the Australia-Croatia game. Don’t know his name, but I recognised him from the night before. Spent Thursday evening sitting in the hotel lounge watching the match with a few of the England lads. They seemed pleased for Kewell; and they winced every time the ref put his whistle in his mouth. The guy had a shocker, combined with the attitude that spawned ‘Little Britain’.
He came in, planked his backside in the barber’s chair and said, “I need you to give me bright red hair and a fake beard. Don’t care what colour the beard is.”
“You fear for your life?” I enquired. I mean, it was a Balkan team that ultimately suffered at his hands, even if he did turn down a couple of stone-wallers against them and take fifteen yellow cards before sending that guy off.
“God no,” he said, “I’m just mortified. I’m getting the next plane home before they put me on it, and my mum’s going to give us a roasting. She says I’ve brought shame on the family. Didn’t even think she’d be watching.”
“Tell you what,” I said, “I’ve got no dyes to hand, and I’ve given all the fake beards to the Poles. How about I just shave your napper and you could grow a bit of stubble. You’ll look like Michael Stipe.”
Suddenly he seemed to grow in confidence. As a barber you have that kind of control. I mean, it’s not like we use the Force or anything, but it’s a similar type of thing.
“Michael Stipe?” he said. “You think?”
I gave him a number zero all over and sent him packing.
Didn’t have to see to any of the players today, but I think they’re all waiting for Sunday. I reckon I’ll be busy all Sunday morning, as they get preened for their big tv appearance. A few gloomy faces around as they reckon there are going to be changes after the Sweden fiasco. A few people looking over their shoulders, some players starting to break off into little cliques.
Today, as I ate my lunch – I know, I know, I seem to spend all of my time eating, but these people can make bratwurst like, well, like the Germans – the coach approached me. He’d just come from the pool and was still drying himself off, his little Scandinavian pecker flapping around under the vigorous towelling. Fortunately he sat down, so that I didn’t have to look at anything more distressing then his nipples.
“I’ve been hearing rumours,” he said, and I actually thought he meant the ones about him considering dropping Beckham.
“It’s the Sun,” I said. “They’ll say anything.”
He looked shocked.
“The Sun are saying that you’ve been approached by the Brazilians.”
Ah, I thought. That rumour.
“Misunderstanding,” I said.
I let him stew in his whiff of chlorine before saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”
He nodded slowly and then stood up. Much to the relief of the fifty or so people in the restaurant at the time, he wrapped the towel around himself. He turned away and then stopped, for all the world as if he was acting suspiciously in a third-rate spy movie.
“Whatever you may have been told about Beckham and devices placed in his head, forget it.”
He stared at me daring me to ask him a question. So I did.
“You mean, it’s not true, or it is true, but none of my business.”
He hesitated, and when he finally spoke, it was in riddles.
“I meant, if you stick your nose into places where it is not meant to be stuck, I will snap you like a twig.”

Well, it wasn't that much of a riddle.
And then he walked slowly off. As he reached the elevator door his towel fell to the floor and an old woman screamed.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lampard came in today. Reckons his hair isn’t spiky enough. Wanted to try out a couple of new things to see how they held up in training, then he can make an informed choice before the game on Sunday.
“Who is it you’re playing again?” I asked, although I knew. Just like to wind them up a bit.
“Ecuador,” he said, and then, as if he was discussing what he was going to have for breakfast, he added, “then Holland or Portugal in the quarters, and both of them are going to be no match for our lads, then Brazil in the semis, and they are just playing a pile of pants and will be easy pickings, I mean I saw Ronaldo eat breakfast once, and you know those burgers that Elvis used to eat, those big fried banana things, Ronaldo eats eight of them in the morning, and he has a bowl of cereal, so no wonder he looks like Maradona before the stomach stapling, although obviously that’s a tall Maradona, because Maradona’s just a little guy, you know, is it any surprise he had to use his hand every time he went up for a header, which leaves Germany or Argentina in the final, and that might be a bit tricky, but by the time we get that far, we’re going to be in the zone.”
I think he said some more but I switched off. The off button is a barber essential. It’s one of the first things they teach you at barber training college. How to use a pair of curling tongs is one thing, but it’s nothing to being able to deal with a customer that just won’t shut up.
If I’m honest, I had kind of hoped that England would get knocked out at the group stage. I mean, nothing to do with me being Scottish, I don’t really care about that stuff. I don’t talk about Bannockburn any more than I’d talk about any other battle from seven hundred years ago. In the past it must remain, and all that. Just that, if England had been knocked out, I’d be on my way home.
Of course, there is the other small matter of the approach I received at lunch yesterday. The team were off doing a light training session, where I believe the coach was trying out everyone, including the reserve goalkeepers, as centre forwards, because he forgot to bring as many as he should have. This guy comes up to me, bit of a Latin American vibe about him.
“Mr Thomson?” he says.
I nodded. Mouth full of German sausage.
“We are very impressed with the work you’ve been doing with the hair. The team, the England team, are predictably atrocious, but the hair, very beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I said, after washing the sausage away with some of that sparkling water which the Europeans all seem to drink by the bucketful. I mean, I rarely get to do anything with their hair, and when I do I hardly touch it, but if someone wants to give me credit for that, then so be it.
“We would like you to come to work for us. We will pay you double what they are paying.”
I nodded. Nice offer. England are paying me a million for the month.
“Who are ‘we’?” I asked.
“We are……,” and he paused dramatically, and I dare say I heard an orchestra in the background playing some John Williams-esque fanfare, “……Brazil.”
I took another mouthful of food. Thought I might as well be cagey. The guy looked a little discomfited by my silence.
“Ronaldinho,” he said. “His hair is tragic, and his football suffers with it.”
I shrugged.
“I’ll think about it,” I said.
Although, I won’t really. The guy nodded sagely, and then turned on his heels. When I looked up, he was gone.
Quiet the rest of the day. The mystery device which has been implanted behind the left ear of the England captain, remains just that. A mystery.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A long day in the saddle. Doing that barber thing. Cutting hair, dispensing wisdom. Didn’t do too many of the players, but the word’s getting around that there’s a free decent haircut on offer. Of course, all anyone wants to talk about is the football and I’ve hardly seen any of it. I’ve read a few articles though, and so I just extrapolate and expand. That’s what barbers do best. Argentina look like favourites, Ronaldo is personally sponsored by McDonald’s, Zidane’s had his day. I know all the conventional wisdom and can repeat it in time with the customer, and every now and again I throw a variation in, such as implying that Ronaldo’s been drugged by an American pharmaceutical conglomerate, and it keeps everybody interested and the conversation rolling along.
Germany? Looking pretty good, nobody’s going to want to meet them; Ecuador, you never know, might cause England a few problems; Spain, going to crash just after the group stages as usual. And so it goes on.
I worked on Beckham just before the game. He wanted the roguish quiff at the front emphasised a little more. You might have seen it. Think I did a good job.
Even watched the game, the team were as mince as previously advertised, then retreated to my room. Not for the first time I opened the door late at night, walked in, and immediately knew that I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t instinct, more the fact that the guy was standing right in front of me.
Late 70’s, thin grey hair, elaborate moustache, dressed in a waistcoat and tweed jacket despite the continuing heat. Old guy, thin blood.
“You must be Otto,” I said, because I’d been waiting for him to turn up.
“Listen very closely, Mr Thomson,” he said. “We don’t have much time. The reason you have been brought here, and the reason your predecessor was dispatched so summarily and so painfully, is that we need you to carry out a small operation for us.”
“Who’s we?” I asked. Obvious question.
“For now,” said Otto, “that must remain a secret. Now, you must be told this. There is a small electronic device inserted into the head of the England captain, just behind his left ear.”
“You’re kidding me?” I said.
“I am Otto the Barbarian,” said Otto, “I never kid. This is a device which will lie dormant until such times as its use is required. It will be activated at some crucial point in a match, and the England captain will make a terrible blunder. A missed penalty kick, a pass back to the goalkeeper, who knows.”
“And England will lose the game?”
“You don’t think they’re capable of losing games in their own right?”
Otto sighed heavily and walked towards me.
“These people will take no chances, Mr Thomson, and it is up to us, to you, to remove the device. That is why you were prevented from speaking to me before cutting his hair today. You must find another opportunity.”
“It was the coach who stopped me,” I pointed out. “Why would he not want this thing removed?”
Otto clasped his hands together, then walked round me to the door.
“Nothing is as it seems, Mr Thomson,” he said, and then with a flourish, he metaphorically pulled a hood up over his head and disappeared out the door.
I stared at the closed door for a while, thinking about Beckham and his left ear, and wondering if I was just supposed to jab down with a pair of scissors into his head. Then I went to bed.
Things always look better from under a light summer duvet.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I’d been told to meet Otto in room 435 at 2pm yesterday. I wasn’t nervous or anything, I’ve been in worse scrapes than this. Scrapes? That’s a bit too Famous 5, isn’t it? I’d no idea why I was going to meet Otto in room 435 at 2pm, but it wasn’t like I didn’t intend to turn up.
At 1.45, four of the team arrived looking for haircuts. Four. That’s more than I’ve had since I got here. The coach came with them like the teacher bringing the kids in to see the school nurse. The players shuffled their feet and looked embarrassed, partly I suspect because the coach was completely naked apart from a kangaroo-skin thong. I think it was kangaroo. I didn’t get too close to check. His tan’s coming on a treat.
“The first wave of my lads,” he said. “I will send some more later. Here are your instructions, Mr Thomson. Pay close attention, I will only say it once. Lennon, I’m looking for purple hair. A light, violety purple. Very jejune, a colour that speaks of the simplicity of summer.” I glanced at the guy he was indicating. Aaron Lennon. He was looking at me with a raised eyebrow, and I knew that whatever I was about to do to his napper, I wasn’t going to be giving it a purple rinse.
The coach prattled on, but I hardly paid any attention as he spoke of orange mullets and great sweeps of streaking yellow. Crouch, Gerrard and Terry, they were the other three. I tuned back in at the end to hear him say that he wanted Terry to have a blond Mohawk. Then he left.
I looked at the four lads in turn with a raised eyebrow.
“Just a little bit off the back,” said Lennon. “But hardly anything.”
“A nothing off the top and nothing off the sides and back,” said Crouch.
“Just a tidy up,” said Gerrard.
“You go anywhere near me with a razor or a pair of scissors and I’m having your bollocks, Chief,” said Terry.
I did as I was asked. It of course took me beyond my 2pm assignation, which, I assume, had been the intention. I barely touched the first three. Terry sat and watched the others with a bit of a grin on his face, didn’t come up to the chair at the end but apologised for being so assertive.
“I’m trying to retain my aggression for the Sweden game,” he said. They say that in the summer he usually collects pressed flowers.
I went along to room 435 at some time after 2.30, but there was no answer to my knock. The day dragged on. The coach didn’t bring anyone else along as promised, however one of the anonymous backroom collective came to told me that I would be required to attend the Sweden game, as the coach had some revolutionary hairstyle ideas which he wished to try out before the knock-out stages.
The tension mounts. At least, I assume for some people that the tension is mounting. I just want to go home.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Early hours of Monday morning. Got in late Sunday night. Feeling kind of flat. Went back to Scotland for the weekend. Didn’t watch any football, got away from it completely. Worked in the shop, everyone was talking about it, of course. I just kept my head down, didn’t say anything to anyone about what I was doing. Imagine telling a shop full of people in the west of Scotland that you were taking money from the English Football Association to cut Wayne Rooney’s hair? Ok, it’s not the 1300’s, it’s not like they’d have my head on a plinth, but I’d be getting dog’s abuse for months.
Saw a few of the players when I got in. They’d been watching Brazil and France and were sitting around talking about how lousy they were and how easy they’d be to beat. The hubris continues. They kind of shut up when they saw me, and who knows the reason for that. You know, as before, they were civil, but the undercurrent is still there. Wary of me for a reason that I’ve yet to discover. Too tired to think about it at the moment.
I sat and had a late night cup of tea in the bar, and one of the young guys came up and sat beside me. Walcott maybe? I’m not really sure about the blokes who aren’t famous enough to get into the Pepsi adverts. It might even have been one of the younger backroom guys, the ones who are there to wipe backsides and apply suncream. He didn’t say anything at first, just sat there as if it’d been the only seat in the house. Of course, the rest of the place was deserted. I left him to it and drank my Scottish breakfast blend.
Five minutes and half a cocktail – I think it was a Slow Fuck In A Bed Of Nettles – later, he walked off without a word. I watched him go, thinking that it was all a bit odd. Noticed eventually the small piece of paper left under the base of his turquoise cocktail glass. I looked at the barman, who was busy watching the highlights of France-Korea on the tv. So I removed the piece of paper and left the bar without looking at it.
Back at the room, the paper burning a hole in my imagination, I got ready for bed. Knock at the door. Pulled on a jumper and some jeans. It was the coach, looking even more like Dracula than normal. Think it must have been the late hour. At least he had his dressing gown on.
“You are safe?” he asked, which I thought was a peculiar thing to say. I’d only been to Scotland. What did he think was going to happen to me? Heart attack from too many fish suppers?
“I appear to be,” I answered.
He nodded sagely and glanced along the corridor. I wasn’t sure if he was expecting me to invite him in, but you know, there wasn’t a chance.
“Good…good,” he said.
He nodded again and paused. Looked at me rather intently. I had, to be fair to the lad me as they say on the football, no idea what he was doing there.
“I’m glad you’re ok,” he said.
I gestured airily, because I was completely lost.
“Before the Sweden game,” he said, “either today or tomorrow, you will have much to do.” He paused again before saying, “I think.”
Then he turned and walked off down the corridor. I closed the door, depressed more than anything else that I had walked back into this bizarre nest of intrigue, and finally picked up the note which I had lifted from under the cocktail glass.
Monday 2pm Room 415 Otto will be there
And man, as Springsteen likes to say, that’s all she wrote.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Complete stramash today. All that stuff they presented to the press in the usual way, the great team spirit, the optimism about the match against T&T, all that stuff, it was all put on. The way I heard it – from a guy who’s out working for the BBC, getting paid ₤30,000 a week to do make-up for the Radio 5 Live people – is that the coach finally admitted to his players that he thinks they’re all rubbish, and will be lucky to beat the Caribbean islanders, never mind Germany or Brazil or whoever they could meet. Apparently he used the term English tripe. Since he thinks the substance is so insubstantial, he reckons they need more style. It’s the modern way. If you can’t be competent, be chic.
And that’s why I’m here. To give them chic hair. The players were outraged, of course. Full of comments about how good they all are, about getting paid eighty grand a week to play quality football, not look goofy in orange hair. As the shouting reached its crescendo, the coach started demanding that they all get the England flag dyed into their napper. Rooney looked quite pleased with that apparently, but dear old Sven was sent packing. One can’t help thinking that he’d get on much better if he didn’t insist on conducting all his team meetings in a red silk fur-lined thong.
He came to see me after I’d spent three hours in my room, looking out at the sun, waiting for customers who weren’t showing up.
“It is all going horribly wrong,” he said sadly. “I know we stink, we stink horribly like an open Venetian sewer, like un unwashed jockstrap. But I thought, maybe, if we showed off a little, if we talked ourselves up, maybe we could fool people into believing that we were better than we are. But we can’t do it with this sad parade of short back and sides, this pitiful collective of despairing normality. We need flair.”
I nodded. Obviously the man is a deranged headcase, but sometimes you have to let the deranged headcase have his say.
“I’m sorry, Barney, you will not be coming with us to Nuremberg. You are a free man for a few days. I need to re-think my tactics.”
“So I can go back to Scotland if I want?” I asked.
“You can go to a brothel in Kuala Lumpur,” he said forlornly. “I need to do something dramatic.”
He turned slowly, so that the sun glinted off his oiled and naked bottom.
“Be back here on Sunday, and by then I hope to have something worked out, something more positive.”
I shrugged. What do I care?
“Sure,” I said.
He lowered his head and started to walk mournfully from the room.
“Who’s Otto?” I asked. He stopped in his tracks and turned slowly. He had a look of curiosity on his face. Like a dog.
“Where did you hear that name?” he asked. Apart from the fact that I’m in Germany, and everyone is called Otto, it was a fair question.
“Tell me where I can find him,” I said.
He hesitated then slowly shook his head.
“Go home, Mr Thomson. Breath the fresh Scottish air, enjoy the last of your freedom. Be back here on Sunday, and be ready to create history!”
And then he was gone.
And so I’m going to take him up on his idea. Back to the real world, and away from this bizarre little madhouse. I might find some time to make a few notes while away, but likely I’ll be back on Sunday, having once more returned to the malaise of the festering viper’s nest that is the England camp.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Michael Owen came in for a haircut today. Not much of one, hardly took anything off, you’d barely notice. Nice lad. Think he just wanted to talk. Said he was fed up being so nice all the time. “I’m not Gary Lineker,” he said. “I’m Stalin.” He wasn’t fooling anyone. Pissed off at being substituted on Saturday, and pleased I think that the entire structure of the team collapsed without him. Even so, he still wouldn’t actually slag anyone off directly.
Later in the afternoon, after the first game of the day in the tournament, I was summonsed to see the coach. He was lying face down on a massage trolley, being subjected to a brutal Swedish pummelling by an enormous German lady called Bertha. Actually, I have no idea if she was called Bertha. I’m making that up. She looked like she was called Bertha. Maybe she was called Florentina or Amelie.
“Well?” said Sven.
I shrugged silently in reply.
“Did you see it?” he asked impatiently.
“What?” I asked. The man was speaking in riddles. Ok, not actually riddles, if he’d been speaking in riddles he would have said something like, “I can run but I can’t walk, I am green but not on Wednesdays, I am cheese but not made of milk,” that kind of thing. He just wasn’t making any sense.
“The free kick!” he said, with exasperation. “The Korean guy. Lee Chun-Soo! His free-kick against Togo.”
“Yeah,” I said. It’d been on in the hotel bar, whilst I’d been relaxing with the Independent and three espressos. “Magnificent kick,” he said. “And you know why? Because of the hair.”
“Ah,” I said, “that’s what this is all about. The blond dye.”
“Wasn’t it magnificent!” he proclaimed. “That’s what I’ve been talking about. When you get your hair dyed like that , or cut in a really ridiculous fashion, you know that the only way you can get away without being a laughing stock, is to produce on the field. It improves your performance."
“Of course, your coachness,” I said.
Then he went silent and sort of waved his hand in the direction of the door as an invitation for me to leave. As I got there he stopped me and said, ‘What d’you think of the mullet? I’m pretty keen for a couple of guys to get one. Ferdinand maybe. Did you know that in Swedish, ‘mullet’ means ‘ice hockey hair’?”
“Aye,” I replied, “I did.”
I left just as he received a massive slap on the arse.
Speak to Otto, that’s what I’d been told a few days earlier. I’d been ignoring it. Decided later on today that maybe it was time to do a bit of investigation. Decided that I might as well approach the person who gave me the invitation in the first place. The goalie, Robinson.
Found him alone drinking a quiet cup of tea, reading Hello! You’d have thought he might be watching the Brazil game, but most of the guys didn’t bother.
"Who’s Otto?” I asked.
He looked blank then shrugged.
“You gave me a note. Speak to Otto.”
He had that look on his face, you know the one, the ‘you’re talking in riddles’ look.
“I didn’t give you a note,” he said.
And straight away, even though I knew the man had given me a note, I immediately began to doubt that he’d given me a note.
“Yes you did,” I said, although right from the off there was doubt in my voice.
He stared at me for a while, then shrugged.
“No, I didn’t,” he said.
And that was the end of that conversation. I left him to his baby pictures. Put the name Otto about a few of the hotel staff, but of course, we’re in Germany. By the end of the night I had three hundred Ottos that I could choose to speak to. Tomorrow I need to take a different approach, although at this juncture I have no idea whatsoever what that’s going to be.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A quiet couple of days. Not just for me. These things always start with a frenzy of expectation, before everyone calms down and accepts that there’s going to be far more shit that show. Like so much else, it’s partly the fault of 24-hour news. They spend so much time building something up, which then can’t possibly live up to the hype, be it the World Cup, or Prime Minister’s questions.
The coach keeps stopping by, usually naked. Fortunately he hasn’t actually come to my room yet. He’s been slapping on the tanning cream, and getting out in the sun as much as possible. Got an all-over brown glow. The lads are saying that at training sessions, as soon as the press have been ejected, he kicks back, whips his tackle out, get a cold beer and starts catching the rays. Leaves all the work to McLaren.
He came to me on Monday morning in an absolute ferment.
“Did you see Loco of Angola?” he asked. “Did you see him? Did you see his hair?”
As a matter of fact, despite my best efforts to watch as little football as possible, I had seen some of the game, and the guy’s hair. Shaved napper except for a long braided tuft at the front.
“Aye,” I said.
“My God! It was fantastic! It was as hair should be. Totally individualistic, totally natural, totally iconic. Imagine if each and every one of our players had a different hairstyle, but with each one being as idiosyncratic as that one. Loco. What a guy. I wonder if he has English grandparents.”
"He was crap,” I felt I had to point out.
“Yes, yes,” said Sven quietly, his mind already elsewhere.
“You know, I think he had a little button which he pressed, and it activated some mechanism in the braids, which made them stand on end and small sharp points jab out, so that he could stab people when he went for a header. Like Rosa Kleb, but at the other end.”
He looked shocked.
“Can you do that?” he asked.
I shrugged and said, “You have to try new things.” Then he walked off, head bowed, little pink Swedish crab stick swinging, muttering to himself about being stuck with a country which showed so little imagination.
The players have been avoiding me, precisely of course, because the coach wants them to get hair like Loco of Angola. Or at least, I think that’s the reason. I’ve been keeping myself busy. Doing some of the backroom guys, and the staff of the hotel have begun turning up too. It’s a free haircut for them.
Met Beckham this morning and asked if he was confident about playing Trinidad & Tobago. He shrugged and said that it was a bit unfair that England were having to play against two teams at once, and walked off asking rhetorical questions about whether it meant that they’d have 22 players in their side.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

“Did you see the game?” the coached asked me.
I was eating dinner on my own. Found a little sushi bar at the bottom of the town, very simple, but really fresh fish. Eating sashimi, as the rice always feels like a waste. Fills you up. Butterfish? Never heard of it before, but I could eat it all night. Play my part in making another species extinct.
“Aye,” I said.
“It was a disaster,” he muttered. “Sure, we won, we got the three points. But it showed the complete and utter disarray in the camp. It was as if they’d never played together before.”
“Didn’t think you were that bad,” I said.
“It was terrible!” he ejaculated.
I should add that he was standing before me absolutely naked, which was more than a little disconcerting. I think he finally picked up on the look on my face.
“Going to the sauna,” he said, by way of explanation.
I stared at him and then looked down at the strips of pink tuna on my plate.
“I think you’d better leave,” I said. “We’ll talk tomorrow. I’ll tell you who to play on Thursday,” I added as an afterthought.
“Will you?” he said, his wee face lighting up, and then he turned and strode out the sushi place, his little Scandinavian pecker swinging in the wind.
Actually got to do some work today. The coach ordered all the players, even the ones on the bench, to come and see me before the game. Don’t know what it was, but most of them did, having been reluctant to have anything to do with me up until now. Maybe it was the prospect of live television and a worldwide audience. Didn’t have much to do, of course. Had to make Beckham’s hair a bit more bouffant, bit of gel, bit of a puff. Some spray for Lampard, ran over Robinson’s head with a naked razor, none of the subterfuge of a couple of days earlier. Had to put some oil onto Hargreaves' napper.
All the players seen to, I intended putting myself around what I like to call the back-backroom staff, the ones whose responsibilities don’t relate to football, and who weren’t going to be at the game. See if I could find out a little more about the mystery surrounding the previous barber, and why I’d been called out at such short notice.
However, two-thirty local I was summonsed to the stadium as a matter of some urgency. Got there presuming that one of the prima donnas in the team was having a hissy about their hair, and refusing to go out because so-and-so looked better than them. Turned out the problem was the referee and his assistants. These guys were in complete turmoil and pandemonium. Hair all over the place. The two assistants had genuine fright hair, you know, sticking up all over the place. The referee had an afro. Seriously. I mean the guy was Mexican. I had fifteen minutes. I did what I could, although in the end all it amounted to was pouring three and a half litres of animal fat over the head of each one, then cementing it in place.
Had to repeat the process again at half-time, so had to stick around. All plans to make further enquiries during the distraction of the game, blown out the water. You know, the guys looked like idiots, but they seemed happy. Referees should be invisible, that’s what everyone says. These three stuck out like chip pans in the wind.
All I can hope is that, if the game was anything to go by, I don’t have to watch anymore of them.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Thought the day was going to be pretty much the same thing as the previous two. That I’d offer myself up to the team to provide the sort of haircuts that Nietzsche talked about when he wrote Twilight of the Barbers, only to be completely ignored. The guys, the players, they’re nice enough, but you can tell there’s a thing going on. Undercurrents. Overtones. Subtext. Nothing, as in all life, is what it seems.
Had breakfast, the usual kind of central European thing. You know, the management have had all sorts of things brought in, like Shreddies and black pudding and pork sausages and ketchup, to make ‘the lads’ feel at home. And you know, you can’t blame them. Continental Europeans all eat this bizarre collection of cheeses and smoked meats and eggs clarted in mayonnaise, and who wants to eat that first thing in the day, when you can’t get a decent cup of tea to wash it down, and you’re about to have to perform to the dreams of fifty million people? Still, I’m sticking to European breakfast-lite, croissant and orange juice and rolls. Tried to speak to Robinson after yesterday’s obscure note, but he blanked me. The coach came and spoke to me again, as he does every day. He was at breakfast wearing an otter-skin penis warmer and nothing else. Hell, it’s Germany, no one notices.
‘Barney,’ he said, ‘you must have realised that the entire squad are in chaos.’
This obviously isn’t the line he’s giving to the media, so I could tell he was opening up a bit. People do that with barbers.
‘I haven’t really seen evidence of that,’ I said.
‘Anarchy,’ said the coach. ‘There are at least three factions, and I’m sad to say, that that pro-hair revolution faction is the smallest. Yesterday, I suggested that the entire team get a blond dye, like those funky Romanians in ’98, and they laughed at me. Laughed! They have no respect.’
‘Didn’t that team lose the only game they played with that hair?’ I asked.
‘That,’ said the coach, ‘was because they were a shit team with shit players. They tried to substitute skill with dramatic hairdressing. For us the hair would be the icing on the top of the cake, not the actual cake itself.’
He tapped the side of his nose and walked off, almost sticking his enormous bare arse in my coffee.
We went to Frankfurt to set up shop for the game tomorrow. I had to go with them, of course. Got a room in the hotel, and I opened for business and stuck a sign on the door. In fact I just left the door open. One of the backroom guys came in – I think it was the lad who’s been brought out to mix the Ovaltine – and I gave him a nifty little Brazilian. Odd place to get it, on the tope of his napper, but he seemed pleased with the result. Two more of the lads came in after that, presumably because they’d checked out the other guy, and I did a Robbie Williams Supreme and a Valdarama. That latter one takes some amount of neck, but I think the lad will carry it off. I wondered if Sven had sent him in to try and tempt some of the players to go for that.
Later on we all sat and watched the Germany-Costa Rica game. The cheery bastards only mentioned our little defeat to Costa Rica in 1990 about three or four hundred times. I think quite a lot of them stayed around to watch Poland, but I’d had enough by then.
Went back to my room, could tell straight away that something wasn’t quite right. Discovered that Gary Neville was sitting in the big chair by the window.
‘Hi,’ he said.
‘Hello,’ I replied. ‘You know, you look just like your brother.’ Think he’d heard that one before.
He stood up, shook me by the hand, said, ‘I hope whatever happens, that it doesn’t turn out for you like it did the last guy. Dreadful to have that happen to your testicles in such a confined space. I just wanted to say. Take care of yourself.’
‘Would you like a haircut?’ I asked, because I’m being paid to be on-call 24/7. There passed across his face a look of such fear, as I’ve never seen in my life. And then he was gone.
Tomorrow there will be the distraction of the game, and then I can make a few enquiries. For some reason, that I can’t quite fathom, I feel like I’m being watched.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Got a text-gag from my assistant this morning. “Rooney can play if he gets a cortisone injection. Beckham says if that little bastard’s getting a new car, I want one too…” Saw Beckham at breakfast, and I told him the joke. He laughed, but I don’t think he actually got it.
The coach came to speak to me later in the morning, just before they headed off for their training session. For some reason he was just wearing a thong. Not sure what was going on. Maybe he’d forgotten to get dressed. It was a shocking peach colour with little black squirrels all over it.
Apparently he’d had a long meeting with the players first thing. There’d been some talk of tactics and Paraguay, but the gist of the meeting had been the hair. He explained how he tried to get across to them the importance of really exciting hair, although he thinks that some of them don’t really quite understand it yet. Only Ferdinand has gone out on a limb at this stage. He seemed troubled, but assured me that my work would start in earnest today. I returned to my room, which is set up very nicely with chair and mirror. Got a great array of scissors and combs, a lovely little German hairdrier. Sink, brushes, mousse, a variety of shampoos, although I have to say that the eggplant, lime and guava smells like vomit, and you’ve got to wonder why someone would make a shampoo that smells of vomit. Part of the deal is that I get to keep all the stuff when the tournament’s over. Or when England are eliminated. But don’t mention that around here or suddenly you feel like you’re talking to Damien, you know. The air goes cold.
The room’s ok. Bright, fresh, a view of the trees. I listened to the radio, sat at the window and contemplated the world. The door opened some time just before twelve and a guy came in. Introduced himself as Paul Robinson, said that he’d come for a haircut. He sat down, looked in the mirror and waited for me to do something.
Well, here I am getting paid roughly forty-four thousand pounds a day to cut the hair of these guys, so I sprung up and stood at his back, glad that I was finally getting to do something. I looked at his napper. The guy had clearly been the recipient of an all-over number one about three days ago.
‘What would you like me to do, exactly?’ I asked.
‘It’s getting a bit long at the back,’ he said.
I took another look.
‘And you want me to cut it?’ I said.
‘With scissors,’ he said. ‘Finger length.’
I hesitated, but you know what they say, the customer is always right. I got my scissors, I did my best to hold his non-existent hair at finger length, and I cut it. Nary a drop of hair fell to the floor.
Three minutes later I showed him the back of his head in the mirror, he smiled, nodded, stood up, brushed himself off, then fished around in his pocket and handed me a ten euro note.
‘It’s all right,’ I said.
He’s a big guy. He reached forward, took hold of my hand, clasped my fingers around the note and then left, rubbing his hand over his hair as he went.
The door closed and I was left alone with my tools and compote of passion fruit conditioner. I was just beginning to wonder what the hell that had all been about when I looked at the euro note before putting in a drawer. Scrawled across it in big pink letters were the words, “You should speak to Otto.”
Mystery. And intrigue. I hate mystery and intrigue, and immediately threw the note in the bin. I’ve so far ignored the advice, but know that the thought of Otto, whoever he is, is going to gnaw at me until such times as I force myself to find him.
The rest of the day was quiet. Bumped into Rio Ferdinand, who was happy and smiling, and told me that I wasn’t touching his hair with a stick. Said that he keeps his travelling hairdresser in his wardrobe. Spent the evening eating sausage and cabbage. Beginning to wonder, as you would, if I really need forty-four thousand pounds a day.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bit of an odd day today, my first full day in Germany. I expected to start work this morning, but it never really happened. Not sure if there was a disagreement between management and players. Could be that none of them actually wanted their hair cut. They probably all saw to it before they left England. Perhaps I’ll have more to do as the tournament wears on. The talk was all of Rooney, but I belong in the ‘don’t give a stuff’ camp.
Had breakfast with Jermain Defoe. I asked him if he was Willem’s brother and he looked kind of blank. Later on I bumped into Beckham for the first time. He recognised me, for some reason. He shook me by the hand, put his hand on my shoulder and said. ‘Sorry you’ve been dragged into this mate, you know. I hope it works out for the best.’ Then he walked off.
It wasn’t so much what he said, odd though it was, but the tone of his voice. Like he’d been speaking to someone on Death Row. However, I was much too cool to chase after him and ask what he’d meant.
One of the backroom guys finally came to me just after eleven and said that I was free for the rest of the day, so I hung up the scissors and walked down into the village. Sat outside a small café, ordered a cappuccino. The waitress asked me something in German, and I just nodded. She could have said, ‘Is it all right if I spit in it, sir?’ or ‘We’ve still got some of last year’s coffee which we’ve kept hot, would you like that instead, and we’ll charge you double?’ It tasted ok.
Later on I went to see the Omen remake. Why do they bother? The guy even started to sound like Gregory Peck by the end, particularly in the scene with Bugenhagen. Personally I’d like to see a remake of Lord of the Rings with Tom Cruise as Frodo. He’s the right height after all.
I went back to the hotel to see what was cooking. There was one of the security guys, the men in black, sitting in reception, waiting for the players to return. Feeling the need for communication – being a barber I’m kind of used to talking – I sat down next to him.
‘You been doing this long?’ I asked.
‘Two months,’ he said. Seemed quite happy to talk. ‘One of the new buys brought in specially.’
‘Ex-special forces?’ I asked.
‘Nah,’ he said, ‘night guard at Safeways.’
As a barber you get a feel for people that is invariably complete and utter pants.
‘I admire you though,’ he said.
‘What d’you mean?’ I asked.
‘You know, coming out here even after what happened to the last guy. Very brave.’
You know how you get those moments in life where things suddenly fall into place. Beckham’s comment didn’t seem so odd anymore.
‘What happened to the last guy?’ I asked.
The bloke looked at me strangely, then I could see it dawning on him that he’d said more than he should. Suddenly he was speaking into his lapel saying, ‘Oscar kilo that, Victor. Tango, oscar, bravo, yankee, out.’ Then he excused himself.
The guys came back. They were all talking about Rooney, asking if anyone had heard anything. The coach spoke to me again. Came up to me in the restaurant dressed in his swimming trunks. Apologised for having had such a quiet day, but assured me that there’d be work for me tomorrow. As he walked off I couldn’t help noticing that he’d had his back waxed.
The news came through about Rooney well into the evening. Saw Willem’s brother a short while later, looking a right bag of misery berries.
‘Could be worse,’ I said to him, ‘you could be the barber.’

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I was working in the barbershop this morning. A normal kind of a day. Bit of a wind coming in off the sea, sun shining, fifteen degrees or so. The west coast of Scotland in June, it can be chucking it down at any given moment, so you can’t complain. I’d just finished giving this old fella a Josh Lucas Stealth cut, when the door opened and these two young guys came in. Black suits, white shirts, black ties, Agent Cooper hair. It was obvious they weren’t there for a haircut. If I’d had to guess, and as it was I didn’t, I’d have said they were MI6, CIA, FBI or KPMG.
‘Football Association,’ said one of them. ‘Barney Thomson?’
I nodded.
‘Are you free for the next four weeks?’
That’s a hell of a question. I mean, really, can anybody say at two seconds’ notice, that they’re free for the next four weeks?
‘No,’ I said. ‘Whatever you’re going to ask, I can’t
do it.’
‘We’ll give you one and a half million pounds, and fix up a peripatetic to run the shop for the time you’re away.’
‘Where am I going?’ I asked. One and a half million pounds? For that kind of money, can anyone say that they’re not free for the next four weeks?
‘Germany,’ said one of them.
‘We need you to cut the team’s hair,’ said the other. ‘The England football team.’
‘Can you do it?’ said the first one. Pinky & Perky I started calling them in my head, but kept that to myself. If nothing else, it shows my age. No one says Pinky & Perky anymore.
‘Probably,’ I said. ‘Who are you getting in to replace me.’
And then, and I’m not kidding you, one of the two Agent Coopers whisks off his mask, for all the world like he’s Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3, loses the jacket, and he’s just a regular guy with a pair of scissors and a blow drier.
‘My name’s Malcolm,’ he said, like he meant it too. These people were slick.
I signed up.

Five hours later I was at the England football team hotel in Baden Baden. I might have seen a couple of the guys around when I arrived, but I’m not sure. I only know the really famous players. Beckham, Rooney, Owen, Bobby Charlton, although someone says that he’s retired now. Sure, I know the World Cup’s about to take place, but beyond that basic fact, I lost interest when Scotland got gubbed one-nil by Belarus. One man up front, for God’s sake.
I sat in a small room waiting for the team manager, who I was told wanted to speak to me. He arrived forty-five minutes late in a white towelling robe. You’d think maybe the tv pictures would lie, but he really does have that Gary Oldman Dracula cut in real life. He sat down in front of me, composed himself for several minutes and then finally spoke.
‘Mr Thomson,’ he said, ‘we have prepared meticulously. Rooney is almost fit, we intentionally lost the game to Northern Ireland last year so that everyone would think we are rubbish,
Beckham is at the peak of ability, Owen is a God once more. There’s only one thing not quite right.’ He left a pause, but I got the feeling that he didn’t want me to fill it.
‘The hair,’ he said dramatically. ‘Sure, it might be good enough to see us through the qualifying rounds, maybe even the last 16, as long as we don’t get Germany. But after that, you need quality hair. No one wins the World Cup in this day and age without the hair. Look at Ronaldinho. The hair on the man, my God! It is beautiful. And have you seen Aziawonou from Togo? Jesus! And it’s just Togo! What are they going to win? Beautiful hair! None of our lads can match it. We need hair of the Gods. Mr Thomson, and that is why you are here.’
‘All right,’ I said.
And then he left.
A guy in a black suit came and showed me to my room. Apparently I’m allowed out, but I haven’t gone anywhere yet. It all seems a bit Wicker Man at this stage. I start at eight tomorrow morning after breakfast. Wayne Rooney wants a purple dye before flying back to England, but I suspect that management will exercise their veto.