GEORGE FARNWORTH was my barber and friend in boyhood. He asked me one day when I was 8 years old what I hoped to do with my life. When I told him that I hoped to be a priest he exclaimed “Well well, Mr Marsh, you and I will be doing the same job then!” It was certainly true that I talked to George Farnworth about everything under the sun throughout my formative years, and I do indeed remember him in much the same way as I remember my boyhood parish priests.
You can’t beat a good barber, which may explain my frequent returning to Robert in Penrith, Cumbria – though my weekday home and work for most of the last 28 years has been in Cheshire, and there’s always, always a queue. Robert set up his business in Penrith on the 3rd August 1957, and has outworked and outstayed every cleric and pretty much every other business in the area. His shop doesn’t open until 8.30am on Saturdays. Officially. But Robert had already trimmed up 2 men before my tardy arrival at just before 8 – each of them having been treated (whether they needed it or not) to his traditional 15 minutes’ worth of absolute attention, and the fascinating experience of Robert’s wielding an old fashioned “cut-throat” razor and thinning scissors with the consummate skill of a man who served a very long apprenticeship, and a lifetime’s work thereafter.
I look and feel considerably tidier now than I did at 8am. Robert and I talked about growing tomatoes, books, Penrith characters, the weather, English breakfasts, even outside loos. And whilst I was mentally totting up the distance between Bramhall and Robert’s Barber Shop in Penrith he somehow happened upon a story about another of his most frequent regulars – who drives down from Perth in Scotland for his 15 minutes! George Farnworth was right.