Like any normal person, I only allow gay men to cut my hair, and I insist upon this even here in rural Norfolk, where there are no gay people. Here haircuts, along with dentistry, midwifery and surgery, are performed by the village blacksmith, and I look back fondly to a more civilised time when my barber of choice was Hobbs of Borough Market. I still visit Hobbs when I can, but as I get to London perhaps five times a year and like my hair cut every four weeks, the potential for a catastrophic haircare shortfall is obvious to all. To address this, I venture ‘up sit-de’ – ie, to the city [of Norwich], as the local dialect would have it – and go to Gatsby’s, where I had my first provincial haircut in February 2014. On that occasion, one of the more feral barbers there claimed to have never eaten dinner from a table, despite the obvious benefits of doing so, and I have remained a regular customer ever since. The wall of silence surrounding the issue of rural hairstyling remains intact, however, and I discussed it with ‘Anton’ yesterday, as we surveyed last year’s work in the Old Servant’s Quarters. ‘Anton’, who recently claimed to be immune to Mace, said he prefers a haircut with the possibility of a womb nudge. Feeling suddenly tired, I asked him what this was. Apparently, it’s the term for when a female hairdresser’s lower abdomen brushes against your shoulder while she is working. Not for the first time, I found myself marvelling that, in the current climate, he is not either wearing some kind of tagging device or the subject of a viral hashtag. Still, knowledge is power, and I am presumably more powerful than before I knew what a womb nudge was, which makes up for feeling slightly closer to an increasingly welcoming and cosy grave.
That said, as we wandered around the Quarters bleeding radiators and talking about haircuts, I was reminded of our great strength as de facto building contractors, which is that we have no idea what we’re doing. Or rather, that we know we have no idea what we’re doing, so consult everyone we can before doing anything – a level of cautious deliberation appropriate to Runton, with no pressure from the Estate itself to get work done, and no-one paying us in any case. We’ll recover our considerable costs and shake a few quid from the Quarters when it becomes a boutique bridal suite (or ‘enchanted bridal wonderland’, as I referred to it in some website text I wrote this morning) in the summer. Outside wedding season, it would work as a standard holiday cottage. Mulling over ideas Joe and I have had for a while, I reckon we could offer the public something I have christened ‘ultra self-catering’. Under this arrangement, guests at the Quarters would hunt, shoot and prepare their own food from around the Estate under the guidance of Joe and Graham. Originally, this was mooted as an activity for the glampers, but they are Guardian readers, and I’m not sure that people with their psychological mix of self-loathing and social superiority should be given access to firearms. Anyway, I’d also like to get Beggar’s Canyon, Runton’s resident survivalist, to help with ultra self-catering. She is adept at skinning and making meals from recently deceased Runton livestock and contributes nothing to the place in return – I’m not having anyone survive an apocalypse on my time, thankyou very much, so she’ll have to pull her weight.
None of this means that we will be getting rid of the conspiracy theorists, nutcases and Reiki healers who rent bits of the Quarters for their various get-togethers, of course. Even accepting that Reiki healers are a bunch of shameless charlatans preying upon the easily lead, the assorted Runton nutters are an agreeable and unobtrusive bunch, and have been washing up here since the Sixties, when the place was a magnet for Christian/hippy dropouts. Also, many of them have long standing agreements with the weirder Trustees, essentially making them part of the furniture – perhaps I should get the table-shy bloke at Gatsby’s to eat off them, come to think of it. In any case, they are what, in our market trading days, we would’ve called regular Hillmans*, and you always look after your regular Hillmans, because they represent money walking into your pocket. There are several buildings around the Estate that we could press into service on their behalf when the Quarters are being rented by hunting parties or the freshly married, so I am sure it’ll all probably be alright. And so, with the probable alrightness of everything acting as a tremendous reassurance to us all, and spring sunshine prodding the slumbering year awake, 2018 at Runton can begin in earnest. Happy New Year Everyone!
*Rhyming slang. Hillman = Hillman Hunter – punter. A Hillman Hunter was a popular British four door family saloon in the Nineteen-Seventies.
Main: Camden from the secret traders’ lavatories above the Market Hall. It has a little balcony, and traders in the Market Hall (Lower) would run here and spit chewing gum into the hair of particularly annoying customers as they exited onto Camden High Street.
Inset top: Archibald al-Fantastique, my dog, looked well pleased with himself.
Inset middle: My dog on occasions manages to trap himself in the bathroom at home and then tries to tunnel under the door.
Inset lower: A Hillman Hunter. When I showed my uncle this picture, he stared at it wistfully and said ‘That was the first car I ever nicked’.