London is a city full of freebies and opportunities if you only know where to look and one of the best ways you can get something for nothing is by becoming a real-life mannequin at the London School of Barbering. By registering on their website you can let an initiate Vidal Sasoon give you a quick trim, a life-changing re-style or – as I did – put your life in the hands of a stranger with a wet shave.
The school is hidden behind an unassuming door on Drury Lane and once you are buzzed in a staircase leads the way up to a waiting room presided over by a huge stuffed moose head and a pheasant that looks baffled to have met its taxidermist. Sat alongside me were six other gentlemen and as we waited to be ushered to our unknown fate and have our name called there was a bizarre atmosphere of a doctor’s waiting room somewhere in the Twilight Zone. Luckily for me, I was to be a demonstration model, rather than a practice head for a student.
It is very much a lottery as to what your role will be, but I think that I struck it lucky, as I got to enjoy a full class treatment including gentle exfoliation, hot towels covering my entire head apart from my nose peaking out like a freshly planted bulb, a fully lathered face and an expertly close shave. It was such an authentic experience that I half expected to have my shoes shined and be given the latest stock market tips by my barber before a rival gang of Mafioso came into the joint with knuckle-dusters.
But be warned, if you are a demonstration model, the free service you get will be tempered by a crowd of 10-12 good humoured students clamouring around your inert and prone figure, intermittently stroking your face and commenting to each other “interesting growth patterns” or “that’d be a tricky cut.” A couple of the students also threw in some excellent questions swirling around my mind, including “what’s the worst cut anyone’s ever had?”, “are you first aid trained?” and “What do you do if you cut him really deeply?” The fact that the trainer replied with “don’t worry, I’ll show you that later” nearly had me leaping for the exit, before he added a reassuring “after you’ve left sir.” Be warned though, even if you avoid a teacher in full Sweeney Todd mode, there will still be a couple of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone moments with the aftershave.
For all the gently surreality of the experience, it is absolutely worth it, especially if you want to come out feeling fresh, aglow with balm and feeling just a little bit like Desperate Dan. There is a chance that you might end up in the shaky hands of a student, but the atmosphere in the studio was one of playful, confident learning and whether you’re looking to get a close shave or a wee snip you’ll certainly find value for money here, plus the added glow of helping an apprentice learn their trade.
You can book appointments at the London School of Barbering here: http://www.londonschoolofbarbering.com/book-a-cut/free-haircuts/ There are some services available which may cost a little money, but basic cuts and shaves are free.