Look at me in this picture. Look how perfect my 20-minute M&S suit looks, and it’s the right colour too. But where did I get my haircut? You’ll never guess, but luckily I have typed it up into an anecdote on the internet so you can learn all the unlikely details.
I had arrived in Scotland and settled into my double-double-bedded room at the Gleddoch Hotel & Golf Course. The immediate benefit – there were complimentary Tunnock’s caramel wafers provided (soaked into the £500 room cost I’d wager), and because I was in a room for four people, there were eight of them. The lucky streak just hadn’t stopped. Now all I needed to do was find a 24 hour barber in this remote part of Scotland and I was sorted for the big day.
We headed out for Wedding Eve dinner at a nearby restaurant.
“I’m just stressing about this speech,” I overheard my elder sister Gillian say.
“What speech. Are you doing a speech?”
“Not originally supposed to, meant to be David (eldest) but he’s point-blank refused. So it’s down to me but I don’t like this kind of thing.”
I saw an opportunity – a gig, a routine, a gag-filled revue bound to be picked up on by talent scouts at the venue. My future in stand-up was all but ensured, especially in that dapper suit. Public-speaking circuit here I come. £200,000 for a hour in Dubai, thanks very much, I’ll be right over. “I’ll do it,” I muscled in.
“Seriously, you’d do it?”
“Yeap, 100%, I love this stuff.” I’d never seen her look so relieved. But I’d gotten ahead of myself. “What’s it about?”
“Oh we just need to do a speech to say a few words on behalf of Dad.”
Dad had passed away earlier in the year, leaving a gaping hole in hearts and indeed these proceedings. This was not quite the gag-fest gig I had envisioned when I signed up, but a deal was a deal. I could see this was something others were going to find difficult, and I am well-known for my ability to laugh in the face of adversity (for evidence, go on the homepage of this blog and click… anything). Still, you don’t get the big money on the after-dinner speaking circuit with a routine of dead dad jokes, so I was going to have to be creative.
We booked a meeting for later back at the hotel to discuss scope and what needed to be covered and where I needed to improvise.
This also sharpened the stress around the hair situation. I would now be performing. No longer a snappily-dressed, shaggy-haired bystander in events. I would now be getting listened to and looked at keenly; can you imagine “Lovely weddin’ hun but ye know what, I just cannae believe your wee brother had the brass neck to stand up there and talk about your poor Dad without gettin’ himself a haircut. He’s a disrespectful wee cunt so he is.”
At dinner, the group has heard about my follicular faux pas, and I’d interrogated everyone I’ve seen about the potential for nearby barber shops or salons that might be open at 10pm. My luck was out. Or so I thought.
I began to overhear a conversation between Laura and the hot bridesmaid, about plans for the morning, and the order in which the girls were getting their hair done.
“Hang on hang on, there’s a hair professional … coming to the hotel … tomorrow?”
“Aye, she’s won awards.”
Why was I the only one here making what, to me, seemed like a staggeringly obvious connection, “Great, problem solved, she can cut my hair.” The looks on my sister and the hot bridesmaid’s faces were enough to tell me there were probably about twelve reasons why this was not as simple a solution as I thought. But my excitement, and the fact I’d started telling everyone round the table that Laura had solved the haircut problem, pressured her to consider it.
“I could … ask…”
What followed could be seen as a tour de force of tenacity and strength of will, or a shameful display of pleading, bemoaning and begging which threatened to overshadow the lofty pomp of the big day. Laura texted the stylist, you can see the conversation in the photo along with the actual pic we took as if to say “look at this, you have to help”.
“Do you think you could give my brother a wee chop in the morning – he’s just arrived from London looking scruffy he needs help x”
The particular mention of “arrived from London” vexes me. It’s as if it serves as a justification for the scruffy hair. It’s not like she was saying “just arrived from Aleppo” or “just arrived from the Somme”. Perhaps the stylist was not to know that there are at least as many hair salons in London than in the picturesque environs of the Scottish coast.
The stylist was having none of it: “Aww doll I don’t cut men’s hair at all he will honistly (sic) be better in a Barbour I’m no good at it xx”. I panicked, Barbour is an outdoor clothes shop, I’d just bought this suit don’t make me go clothes shopping again.
When the answer came back no, I quickly posed for a photo to demonstrate the urgency of the situation. I swiftly explained that my usual fare is a £3.99 cut at Anton’s – I was not disparaging Anton’s fine work just trying to get across that I have merely functional needs for a haircut and was not expecting her to do anything fancy. I love how this is mentioned to the stylist as if Anton’s is a household name in the salon world, rather than a single shop in Tooting. In fact, this haircut scenario was indicative of a wider issue. I had moved back in May from my haunt of 16 years in Tooting to a new house in Kent. I had not yet found a replacement for Anton. This had been an unforeseen anxiety of the house move. Where was I going to go to get my hair cut. I was so used to the familiarity of Anton’s that I’d forgotten how much I generally dislike the process of finding and going for a haircut.
If you think I’m exaggerating about this, here’s a thing. At the end of May last year, after I was settled in my new house, I needed to pop back to Tooting to hand over the keys to my old flat and check everything was clean etc for getting my deposit back. While here, I went for what can only be described as a top-up haircut from Anton, to maximise the amount of time I had before I needed to source his replacement.
We were taking a pragmatic approach here with the stylist, calmy explaining the sorry facts of the situation. Me having shit hair would spoil my speech and besmirch our late dad’s memory, thereby ruining my sister’s wedding day, leading to an unhappy client. The stylist caved in.
I was set for an experimental hair session the following morning. I was nailing every part of the planning and execution of this wedding so far. Would this luck never end.
As dinner was done, my elder sister asked for the bill, and when it arrived, I reached over the table to grab it, burning my elbow on the candle between us. “Ow!” my hand snapped back, and I started rubbing my scorched flesh.
“Oh that’s a great one, never seen that before,” Laura said, let me try it, “How much is it?” she reached for the bill, “Ooooowwwwwww,” she pretended to burn her arm on another candle. “Anyone else?” A few more did the same, until my Gillian was left to pay the bill. Wasn’t intentional but I had stumbled upon a fantastic way to eat for free, although I feel everyone at the table doing it hammed it up a little beyond believability. But feel free to try my Candle Trick sometime, just prep the candle position 10-15 mins in advance.
Back to the hotel, and to the posh coffee machine which would supply me with at least £500 of complimentary nourishment over the next two nights (meaning those caramel wafers really were free). It was time for our meeting about the speech.
I looked at ways I might be able to attach a rubber tube to the coffee machine and trail it directly into my room, while Gillian asked for some paper. She came back with a few sheets of A4 just as the machine was dishing my third coffee of the last half hour. The job tonight was to capture the essentials, the bits that functionally needed to be covered for this speech to serve its purpose. I would then spend most of the night pacing around in my hotel room adding the gravy – gags, niche in-jokes, puns and lines which made me seem cool to the audience.
From the initial writer’s room session, we ended up with a few pages of double-spaced, neatly written script. All the key points were covered, including a few that we almost forgot about, such as “Dad died” and “Laura’s getting married”. It was too easy to get caught up in the moment, we had to make sure punters took in these salient points.
I retired to my room and began work finessing the script, and practicing delivery – more “from the heart and unscripted”, less “local newsreader autocue”. I was not comfortable having notes at all, it seemed amateurish and I was trying to project an image of a seasoned speaker who was a natural at this, and could be even more natural for a fee and expenses. I definitely wasn’t turning up with conspicuous sheets of A4 rustling around. I set about transferring the script, with my gags onto a more sensible format.
In this case a piece of hotel notepaper a mere 2.5 parmenters in area.
(You’re probably familiar with a parmenter as a unit of measurement. But just in case. It gets its name from the time recently I ordered 36 packs of netball trading cards from Australia, 324 cards, more than enough to complete each of the 8 squads of 10 players. It was not to be, as most of the cards ended up being duplicates of Amy Parmenter. They are so commonplace in my house that I have some on my desk which I use for scale photographs and as a measuring device. So often is this used that it’s been ages since I used any other measurements. I couldn’t even tell you what a parmenter is in centimetres and inches, I only know at this stage that a parmenter is equal in size to two half-parmenters.)
I had managed to compress everything onto this discreet note, like a pro. From reams of A4 down to barely a double-parmenter with no loss of detail. It was all half-sentences, keywords and prompts. 24 hours later I’d probably be signing photocopies of this piece of work for adoring guests to take home and frame as mementos.
Now the only problem was I had a whole morning’s worth of guff to get through before it was showtime. Did I say guff, I meant a meticulously crafted love festival aka an actual wedding ceremony.
And the small matter of a hair cut.
Morning came and I treated myself to a nice coffee from the posh hotel machine, my fourteenth since midnight. It looked like the machine had undergone some maintenance before I arrived, there were rumours by 3am it had smoke coming out of it.
The hotel was abuzz with activity. Something had happened. “What’s going on?” I asked, concerned, “Is everything still OK with my haircut?”
“She got stung by a wasp this morning.”
“The stylist got stung by a wasp?” I panicked.
“No. Laura! The bride! On her wedding day. Poor thing.”
“Oh thank fuck for that, everything’s still OK with the haircut then?” I wasn’t being heartless, but put it in perspective. Laura had an army of make-up artists en route to real-life-photoshop her, they could easily mask a wasp sting, even front of face. But I had one chance to get this haircut before my big day. Finally the call came, as if to shut me up from asking. I was summoned…
…to the Bridal Suite. I passed through several layers of security. Even getting to the floor of the hotel that housed the Bridal Suite was near-impossible. Let’s just say I did not have the required physical anatomy to be allowed in this area. Hordes of pre- and post-make-up ladies guarded every step of the corridor. By the time I got within eight parmenters of the door, I had my cover story down to a simple gesture, a nod and a point to the hair. I was still met with suspicion but was eventually waved through by Hot Bridesmaid, the head of security.
I arrived in this alien wonderland, every part of the room had a different woman, sitting on some kind of chair or perch, with another woman dressed in black doing things to their face and/or hair. Over in the far corner, my sister was surrounded by equipment, bags, lights, tripods, mirrors – I thought for a moment she was having dental work done.
“DON’T LOOK AT ANYTHING. SIT DOWN” someone snapped. I couldn’t see who said it, I imagined it was someone on the other end of a sinister CCTV camera. I was in the lion’s den here. I had no time to take notes of all the secrets laid bare in this forbidden land, I had a job to do. I sat down and the stylist swooshed a giant sheet over me. It’s a trap, they’ve got me, they’ve got me, I’ll never talk, foul vixens! I thought I was going to be waterboarded, but the sheet settled around my shoulders and she tucked it in.
“It’s been a long time since I did a gent’s hair,” the stylist said nervously.
“It’s been a much longer time since anyone called me a gent,” I quipped. It was a canned gag, I thought of it the night before while brainstorming hairdresser smalltalk. I hadn’t been on any holidays, apart from this one, so I was going to be stuck. I didn’t have the rapport here I was used to with Anton. “Don’t worry I have zero expectations here, other than having less hair than when I walked in, you literally can’t go wrong, did Laura tell you about the usual £3.99 short back and sides at Anton’s? I mean, that usually takes about 90 minutes, but 88 of those are Anton talking to me about YouTube videos he’s seen.”
She was put at ease by having a customer with rock-bottom expectations, and set about the task as I listened intently for any intel from the chattering background noise around the room. Other men might interrogate me for information after this unique piece of espionage, if I made it out alive. I wondered, in case they were planning to kill me rather than let me leave, if I needed to connect emotionally and humanise myself, like you see in films. “I have a family you know, a baby sister. She’s getting married. Yes, she’s over there.”
After five minutes of fast-moving fingers and scissors I was done – I have to say this “getting a haircut under extreme pressure” resulted in a very efficient and snappy process. I stood up, thanked the stylist, and admired her handiwork in the mirror. She’d done a great job, it was a far cry from the simple chop-it-all-off I had expected. I was just about to thank her again, when I heard a hoover. I turned around and she was frantically scooping up the piles of grey and black hair carpeting the floor of the bridal suite. I’d forgotten about that. Anton’s place has a little floorboard that opens up and he just sweeps it all in.
I was shown out under tight escort by a couple of henchmaids. I had emerged unscathed from a place few men would ever go. And I was going to be looking quite the part for my speech later. Time to get ready and head to the church.
Even there, I was working. Was there to be no end to my contribution to this event. I was at the venue ahead of time with my eldest brother, prepping the scene and preparing to welcome guests. I was charged with dishing out little thistles to be placed on lapels of the gents. I was getting used to this gent thing.
After this was done it was outside with little brochures with the songs in. It was a carefully coordinated event and it was important that everyone was singing from the same hymnsheet. THAT’S WHERE THAT PHRASE COMES FROM.
“Evening. I mean morning. Fuck. Afternoon. This way please,” I welcomed deftly, as the guests arrived, a bag piper occasionally menacing my ears along the driveway. “Good day, warm welcome, thank you for coming, good to see you, you’re looking well,” I was a natural. “Who the fuck was that?” I’d occasionally lean and ask my brother, when confronted with someone who somehow knew me. By the end of the day, after my speech, EVERYONE would know me. I’d have to get used to the fame. “Hello, glad you could make it, just this way, sit anywhere you like”. I had to stop saying that when I realised I had no real confirmation that that was true, I’d zoned out of most of the rehearsing elements. “Alright mate, just through here, have a little leaflet, oh mate you should see one of the bridesmaids. Hot? Mamma fucking mia. Unbelievable. Once the ceremony starts, whistle over to me, I’ll point her out.”
I should mention here, my brother was in a grey suit. That whole thing “everyone’s wearing blue, you need an entirely new blue suit” – bullshit. I got mugged off.
Everyone was in, time to head inside and get seated for the start and the Bride and entourage doing their big entrance. Sit anywhere you like, I’d been telling people, but I’m sure I was meant to be somewhere specific. Front surely? Only the front rows were free. Now I was sure someone had said we had to sit on the right. Right as you came in, or right as you look at it from the front? The first one sounds sensible, but this is a House of God and his ambassador will be at the front looking out at people. Surely it’s got to be from his perspective? I figured I should be respectful to the Lord and sit on the right hand side as seen from his messenger’s viewpoint. So I dashed in, turned left and sat down.
After only a short suspenseful delay the bridesmaids arrived. Me and my brother could tell from the look on their faces that mistakes had been made. They gestured us to budge up. Fuck we were on the wrong side.
By sheer coincidence I had ended up sat next to Hot Bridesmaid – what are the chances. One in a million. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d planned it, which I didn’t, I didn’t plan it. What a crazy unforeseeable coincidence. This was problematic however. There was plenty of space for us, but space was the issue. On the other side. Over there was our mum, and the best man. And when proceedings started she’d be sat on her own.
The wedding video is littered with shots of us looking shiftily over wondering if we should switch sides and if we’re in trouble for fucking up the big day, but it all turned out OK in the end. In a prophetic moment, we had self-isolated our elderly mum a good six months before COVID-19.
After an exhausting ceremony, my speech approached. Well, it didn’t because there was about four hours of photos to be taken. But we were nearly there.
Back at the hotel we were all seated for food and speeches. There was some commotion, people were trying to get my attention. Someone had found a few A4 sheets of paper with my speech on in the back seat of one of the cars. “Calm down, I’ve got it all here,” I flashed the piece of hotel notepaper.
Someone new approached my table, “Are you Alan?”
“Oh come on mate, I haven’t done the speech yet, can the autographs wait?” He was actually there to prep me with a microphone. It was really happening! He started to clip it to my tie, it was a nice professional Sony mic. “I work for Sony actually.”
“Oh great then you’ll know how this works then,” and he left me with it. Fuck, that backfired. Was it even on? How do I turn it on? It kept falling off. Serves me right. Never say anything you don’t have to to anyone.
My warm up acts came and went and it was my time. A guy on the sidelines introduced me “And now the bride’s brother, Alan” I stood up and moved to the front of the room. Where. I. Belonged. An adoring crowd baying for puns and quips. Fuck it, take no chances. I grabbed the handheld mic from the guy who introduced me, just in case my smalltalk had left me with a non-functioning Sony lapel mic. Mic in one hand, little sheet of paper in the other, I was ready.
It was around this point, this crucial point, that I realised my tiny compressed hand-written notes, on a piece of paper only a couple of parmenters big, were utterly impossible to read at arm’s length. I had essentially turned my speech into a micro-fiche that was unreadable just when I needed to read it. But I could handle this surely, a minor hiccup. Besides I knew at least the opening line off by heart, I’d rehearsed that bit often enough…
“Just a small correction, I was introduced as Laura’s brother,” I began, “I’m actually Laura’s favourite brother,” a few laughs, “I’m also Laura’s single brother…”
This – historians will note – was the moment, the exact moment, where I went wrong. And I had no-one to blame but myself.