I'm sitting in a chair in a room the size of my bathroom in a village in North Wales. 'Do you do men's hair?' I'd asked poking my head through the doorway. 'I'm a barber. That's all I do.'
The barber is a twenty three year old local lass - born and bred in the village. Never left. Been as far as the Irish Sea but no further.
'What would you like?' She has the lilting accent of a Welsh speaker and the charm of a sheep farmer. 'Can you give me a Welsh haircut?' I ask.
'How much do you want off? Do you want scissors or clippers?' She's not really into light-hearted banter.
On this Saturday afternoon in July the main street of Y Bala is crawling with locals. The sun is shining, Children are swimming in the chilled waters of the lake of the same name. It's summer. Saturday is the big day for the Siop Y Barbwr. The shepherds head to town for a spring clean and the mums drag their sons to town for their monthly shearing.
In winter, Arianwen tells me, the snow blankets the village up to the eaves and the men don't bother with grooming. They'll grow their winter coat and she'll spend freezing days waiting for a customer. 'Mt Aran's peak is snow covered through winter. It's like a picture book' she shares. She's starting to loosen up. She's stuck with this daft tourist asking silly questions so she decides to humour me. 'Which mountain is that? I ask. Arienwen hesitates, pausing mid scissor. She's struggling. 'Is it this end of the lake or the other?' 'This end' she says. I suspect she's wrong. A case of seeing something every day for your whole life and not being able to describe the most familiar to a stranger.
'Do you speak Welsh?' 'Everyone does.' 'So you're multilingual?' She looks at me confused, her eyebrows arching, her dark celtic eyes piercing mine. My stupidity is reflected in the mirror. 'I suppose so.' Clearly its not something that the locals even think about.
She's deft with the scissors. She circles my seated head while a photo of Marilyn Monroe laughs at the scene over her shoulder. It's the only piece of decoration in her spartan shop besides a mirror, two chairs, a small number of products and a powerpoint. There is no queue of customers lining up. Nor is there anyone there the next day or the one after that as I visit the Co-op for supplies. Each time I pass, Arianwen is sitting in one of the two chairs, a bored look on her face, a magazine in her hand.
I'd like to report that my "Welsh haircut" was a unique creation perhaps resembling the fabled Welsh Rarebit - an expanse of melted cheese congealed on top of a warm piece of toast, however to my pleasant surprise it is one of the best haircuts I can remember. Clearly superior to the work of my Greek barber back home and more memorable than my disastrous encounter with a French hairdresser in a remote village in Brittany.
I wander over to the local tavern half expecting the boys at the bar to welcome me in lilting Welsh phrases. Rather, they pause mid lilt and stare at this intruder, this newly shorn freckled outsider.
Siop Y Barbwr = The Barber Shop; Y Bala = The Outlet