McFlynn, Brian James Interview

Today is the 1st February 2016. I’m interviewing Brian McFlynn, a barber.  Brian is going to tell us about the life and times of his family starting from where they came from to here. Thanks, Brian.

My father came out from Ireland in 1912 as a nineteen year old. He came from a town called Magherafelt which is a Londonderry County in Ireland, and when he arrived in New Zealand he arrived in Gisborne and he boarded with a Mrs Alicia Butt, I think it was in Bright Street in Gisborne. He worked in a blacksmith’s shop in Gisborne on the corner of Reads Quay and Lowe Street, which is long gone.

I’m not sure when he came to Hastings, but my mother came from a little village out of Killarney called Firies, in Southern Ireland. I have two sisters – one lives in Australia, another one at Havelock North – one older, one younger. I always wanted to be a cabinet maker or a barber.  Cabinet maker was Number 1, but the apprenticeship for a barber came up so I grabbed it – couldn’t get an apprenticeship for a cabinet maker which I’m quite pleased about now. So I started an apprenticeship with Des Rea in 1952. Came out of my time I think it was 1956, September. They were good years, he was a good boss.

Brian, if we could just go back … a bit about your father I guess. Was he a blacksmith trained when he came to New Zealand?

His older brother in Ireland taught him the trade as a farrier and he worked as a farrier in Gisborne.  And there was some great racehorse in Gisborne, I forget its name, it was owned by a Ned Fitzgerald, and my father was the first one to shoe that. He turned out to be a great champion. That was my father’s claim to fame, that he was the first ever to shoe it. Every time we went back to Gisborne as a kid we always went to this Ned Fitzgerald’s place and they talked about this …


Yeah. He came to Hastings and started a farrier’s shop opposite the racecourse in Hastings and he was there ‘til he died in 1955. I spent a lot of time with him at the farrier’s shop. I’d keep the forge going and muck around – always thought I was going to be part of it but then it looked like too hard work to me. On race day he used to … I don’t know whether they do that nowadays … the horses used to have heavy shoes for every day wear and then they would have little light ones for racing and they were called plates. So he had to go round all the stables Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning. There was [were] heaps of racing stables in Hastings. We used to go round on Saturday morning – I’d help him – thought I was – knocking the nails out. We’d always get up early and have bacon and eggs for breakfast. I loved them – he was the only one who could burn bacon properly and let the eggs be runny.

Yeah.  So he was on the corner of Henry Street and Southland Road.  And when he died I unfortunately rushed in and pulled the building down and forgot to take a photo of it. The land was owned by a joker, Jack Hannah, who had racing stables on the corner of Lyndon Road and King Street. And he owned the land so we had to get rid of the building, so a joker, Sam Hunter, gave me a hand to pull it down. I always regretted never taking a photo of the thing.

Joker, Jack Hannah, had that. I don’t know how many horses he had.  But then there was down at the Blue Moon dairy – well, it was stables behind that. Tom McGavin I think his name was.  Jimmy Paul was down Karamu Road, and then there was Quinlivan in Gordon Road, and old Percy Wall.  Oh, they were all over the place. It was a big thing, racing then.  He kept busy with that, drove his hacks.  But yeah, it looked a bit like hard work for me. When I got my apprenticeship with Des Rea I was fifteen.

Let’s go back to school for a start. Which primary school did you go to?

Went to St Joseph’s primary school. Yeah, they were pretty strict but I couldn’t speak ill of them. And I was never going to be an academic so … I was always going to be in trades. I hated school.

But you obviously played sport.

I played rugby at school, in my school days, but never got to any heights. It was quite interesting. I had a friend at school whose name was Jimmy Donovan, and his father was Bull Donovan who owned a billiard room. Well Jimmy and I on a Sunday, we’d go upstairs and we’d clean the billiard room out for him – mop it out, and for our reward we were allowed to have a game of snooker. We were probably I don’t know – thirteen, fourteen year olds.  The Bull and two or three others would sit there in the corner having a few beers. One Sunday Jimmy and I scrubbed the staircase and we left the front door open to dry it out and we went over in the corner playing our snooker and the police came up. The sergeant and the constable, and they got the old Bull for having a billiard room open on a Sunday and drinking alcohol in the billiard room. He went to court over the whole thing. So I don’t know what happened to that but he did go to Court.

Did you still have your job cleaning the place?

[Chuckle] I think that might have been the finish. Actually the police were quite good. They ignored us, the young guys, they could have had him for having minors on the … but they got away with that, but yeah, that was one of the school days things.  And we used to fight the Gores – the Donovans would fight the Gores, and I was in the Donovan household.

When I left school I did my apprenticeship. I played rugby for Celtic a bit. We were a bit poorly. I came out of my apprenticeship in ‘56 I think it was, and I stayed with Des until ‘62 then I went to work for a couple of months for Austin Donovan when Des closed the shop down.  And sometime in ‘62 I started my own shop in the Council Chambers down next to the Assembly Hall. They were doing some alterations or some work in the Assembly Hall. They were doing some alterations or some work up in the Assembly Hall and one of the carpenters came down and he said to me, he said “this building withstood the 1931 earthquake, but” he says “the next shake” he says “you run like hell” he says. [Chuckle] 1962.  And I thought that had to be right because when we went into that shop a couple of the guys in the rugby team helped me do it up, and one was a plumber, and we had no water in that shop but out the back was a little courtyard which … was there I don’t know – it was a useless thing – but there was a tap.  So Kanga said “right” he says “we’ll tap into that”, so he knocked a little brick out of the wall at ground level and the brick just slid out quite easy. We put the pipe through, connected it up the tap and that became my water. Seven years later when I left I turned the tap off, disconnected the pipe, slid if off and just slid the brick back in the hole. Often been going to go back and see if I can just push that brick out again. So when the carpenters said they were sitting on top of each other I sort of believed them a wee bit. So I was there ‘til ‘67 I think, and then I moved to Warren Street and was there for twenty-five years and then moved home here twenty-two years ago this April coming. Yeah.

When I was doing my apprenticeship my boss was a very, very good guy, a lovely guy but he was fairly strict with his things. He drummed into me that ‘the most important person around was the person that walked in that door – never think you’re doing them a favour.’ Every morning I had to go and clean the windows and sweep the footpath, scrub the floors. When we were a bit quiet – they owned a billiard room three quarters of a block down the road – and I’d have to go up there and wash all the windows of the billiard room. Wouldn’t get away with that today.

I used to go out the back of the Carlton Hotel – they had a … out in the backyard they had a hot tap, boiling water, and I used to have to get buckets of water to come and scrub our walls and our floors – I hated that because to get to this tap I had to go through the Ladies and Escorts’ bar. We used to call it the ‘passion pit’.  Oh, they gave me a hard time these ladies in there. I was about a sixteen-year-old.

So those days in the barber’s shop you probably did more shaves. Did you do more hair washes?

Not so much hair washes – we did the odd one, but we did a lot of shaves. We had our regulars come in in the morning and have a shave.  You know, Christmas Eve in the barber’s shop we used to start work at eight in the morning and finish at ten at night, and you wouldn’t stop for lunch or tea. The boss would send our shop girl out to get us a milkshake some time during the day, but it was flat out all day and Friday nights was [were] the same. I remember a guy sitting in my chair one Christmas Eve and all of a sudden he decided to be sick. So I had to spend half an hour cleaning that up after he’d gone. Yeah.

The boss was out one day and a joker came in. He was fairly tanked up and he wanted a shave, so I thought ‘oh, this is good’. So I shaved him and some noise happened out in the street and he swung his head round to have a look and I cut him – I reckon I went right into the bone – blood everywhere. This chap started screaming for the police and ambulance and I’m trying to stop the bleeding and the boss walked in. I was never so pleased to see him in my life. We fixed this chap up and when he went out the boss gave me a rev up for shaving a drunk so I’ve never done it since.

‘Course – they haven’t got control of themselves have they?

No, no -he just moved his head. I was going one way with the blade and his head went the other way.  Yeah, I reckon I blunted my blade on his chin bone.

So during this period Brian, you were playing rugby for Celtic?

Yeah, played rugby for Celtic. I did that for a number of years, and then I was on the Celtic committee as a players’ representative.  And when I gave up playing I stayed on the Celtic committee and got on to the committee to build a new club rooms in Alexandra Street which is now gone.  Oh, then I got sick of rugby so I coached for a year, and that would have to be the worst experience I ever had, coaching. But then I went to refereeing and I refereed for I don’t know, probably twenty years and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.

But I joined the marathon clinic and ran fifteen marathons and twenty-three half-marathons, and that was most enjoyable. We used to have a lot of enjoyable times there running around the hills of Havelock North.  And played squash – another chap in the referees and I – we used to go down to the squash court every Saturday morning and play for a bottle of soft drink. Oh it was vicious. [Chuckle]

So did you have any really memorable games? I know you probably enjoyed all the games of rugby when you were refereeing, but were there any that ..?

Yes I was a bit fortunate, I got Hawke’s Bay appointments. There were some strange people running rugby. I did Hawke’s Bay played Poverty Bay one day. It must have been the last game of the season and I was dying of thirst – went back to my little changing room, dying of thirst, so I went out looking for a tap and I saw a guy with a Hawke’s Bay blazer on with “Executive” and he had a crate of two dozen little bottles of soft drink, and he was taking them into the Hawke’s Bay team which was the room next to me.  And I said to him, I said “good God” I said “can I have one of those?” He said “no you can’t”, he says “these are for the players”. I said you haven’t got twenty-four players, you’ve only got twenty-two”. He says “no, you can’t have one at all”.  So I went out to the piecart and asked the guy there “do you sell soft drinks?”  So I bought one anyway.

But when I’m getting out of the shower this same guy comes back in and he’s got a little wee ticket, and he says “here you are, this entitles you to one free jug of beer at the after match function”. So I told him where to put his ticket. I sort of said I wasn’t going to the after match function and I didn’t referee for one jug of beer anyway.

Yeah – he was a strange fellow. And another day I did a Hawke’s Bay game – can’t remember who it was against but some of the Hawke’s Bay players and I were standing outside the main entrance before we went and got changed, watching the curtain raiser. Another official from Hawke’s Bay comes along and he’s got a whole arm load of programmes and he started handing them out to the players.  And he went to hand me one and he looked up and he said “oh” he says, “you’re the referee” he says “no, you don’t get one” he says. So I thought ‘oh yeah, the head dog’s told you to go and give the players a programme and never mentioned the referee’, so … I thought ‘oh … you know’.

So did you do your marathons while you were refereeing to keep fit?

No, I used to run. I used to do a lot of running but I wasn’t in the marathon clinic, and then some guy talked me into going and I quite enjoyed it. I was never an ambitious referee, but there were the top six I think they called it in Hawke’s Bay, and if you got into that in those days then your name went to the New Zealand Rugby Referees and they could allocate you to do test matches or Ranfurly Shield games. I got into sixth place, and I thought that was you know, quite surprising, but I refereed a game one day and I thought ‘I’m not really enjoying this’. It was some club game, and then the next Saturday I did another game and I thought ‘no, I’m not enjoying it’.  So the third Saturday out on the field there was trouble, and I thought ‘oh, this – I’ve had enough of this’, so I retired. My mate came to me – he says “you’re bloody mad”, he says. “You’ve just got into the top six and you’re chucking it in”. I said “well, if the enjoyment goes out of it I don’t care if I’m in the bottom six or the top six”. So I made a real thing about running then, I got into the running more – I was enjoying the running more.

So where was that marathon clinic run from?

The marathon clinic was down in Murdoch Road, in the Scout Hall in Murdoch Road.  And Sunday mornings we would have at least three groups going from that hall running different distances and there would be at least 50 in each group.

Whereabouts in Murdoch Road was the Scout Hall?

It backs onto the Boys’ High School or Akina Park – I think there’s a softball diamond there. We used to go and start our run from there. No, they were great days. So I went on about fifteen marathons. I ran my first half marathon – first official run I went in was Central Hawke’s Bay half marathon, and I’d never even run near that distance before. A lady, Jocelyn McClelland, she took pity on me. She was a good runner and she ran with me. She was tough. She wouldn’t let me walk. “No, keep going … go up the hill … no, you keep going”. And when we were coming to the finish, I was a wee bit long, last … second to last -and she said to me “when we get round this bend” she said “the finishing line’s there, so start smiling”. I said “God, how do you do that”.  [Chuckle] She was a hard lady to run with.

So you would have had some hard marathons?

The first one I did I was at Rotorua, and I didn’t have a clue, but one of the guys in our Club said to me, he said “oh”, he said “I’m just going to have an easy jog.” And I thought I’ll run with him.  So I ran, but his easy jog was miles faster than my run. I got to half way and I said to him “I can’t go on. I can’t go on”.  So he went on. I came in at some shocking hour. It was a long way, the second half. But I caught a girl up who was in our Club and she was a good runner, but she was walking as if she was half-drunk, so her and I came in together and she was wanting to go and sit down on the side of the road. I said “oh, don’t do that – we’ll walk to this post, we’ll jog to the next one”.  We did, and when we got into the finish the medical team came along and grabbed her – she had the first stages of hypothermia. And they thanked me very much for looking after her. I said “I didn’t know I was”. But they said if she had gone and sat down she would have died because it was a cold day and she was just in a singlet.

When I finished my first marathon, I forget what the time was but it was nearly all day, I thought afterwards … I said I’d never ever run another one.  And then afterwards I was thinking ‘I can’t do any worse than that. My next one’s got to be better time.’ So I went for that.  And it was interesting, because a girl in our Club, she ran past me with about eight ks [kilometres] to go and she looked really good, and I thought ‘why did I go out so fast?  Should have stayed with Ann, she looks pretty good’. And when I got to the finish I went round the back of the shed and here’s Ann sitting down on the ground, so I sat down with her, talked to her.  And she said “I’m going to have to run another marathon”. I said “why’s that?”  And she said “I don’t remember finishing that one”. She packed up with a k [kilometre] to go.  Yeah, she said “I don’t remember finishing that one, so I’ve got to do one more to see what a finish is like.” So you do … you can run out of steam.

But when I was an apprentice barber, men didn’t go to ladies’ salons and ladies didn’t come to us.  If they were waiting for their husband they waited out on the footpath.  And my boss’s mother had a salon about three blocks down the road – the Sarita Beauty Salon they called it. Sometimes on a morning Des would say to me “go down to the Sarita and get the towels”, and I absolutely hated that. “Someone’s going to see me walking into …”

The ladies’ salon – oh my God.

And I used to ride down on my bike and it’s amazing how slow you can ride a bike. [Chuckle]  And I’d get there and I’d park it in the gutter and I’d look around, and no one’s there – luckily it was always about nine o’clock in the morning. So I’d rush into this Salon, and all the girls in there must have known I was embarrassed because they all made a hell of a great fuss of me. And then they’d give me the towels, and I was on the bike … zhooom!  Gone.  I was embarrassed doing that.  And one day here, oh, it was about five or six years ago, and a lady came to the door.  She says “are you Brian?”  And I said “Yes I am”.  She said “I’m Diane.”  She says “I was the junior at the Sarita when you were the junior at Des’s”. She says “I was the one that used to give you the towels”.  Yeah, I said “well you’ve got no idea how much I hated that”.  She said “we knew that”. [Chuckle]  Yeah, it was nice of her to pop in. I haven’t seen her since. That’s the only time I think I have ever seen her.

So that would be some time ago.

So that was one of the things I didn’t like about … probably about once a week having to go down to the Sarita.

Now sometime during this marathons and sport you me your wife?

I met my wife in about 1963, through rugby. Her brother-in-law was secretary of our Club. She comes from Pahiatua, or out of Pahiatua, a place called Coonoor.  Her parents were farmers down there, and her nephews have got the farm now I think. She went to school in Wellington and Lower Hutt, and she came up here to work.  Or I think she was passing through actually … idea of going overseas but she stayed here and worked. And we got married in 1966.  Five children.

Are they all still local?

No, the eldest girl’s in Wellington – she’s teaching. The eldest boy’s in Hastings – he’s surveying. Then the next boy – he’s in Palmerston North – he’s a policeman; the next boy – he’s in Luxembourg – he’s in merchant banking, and the youngest is a girl – she’s got a salon out at Havelock North.  Yeah.  So they’re around here, and I’ve got six grandchildren, four girls and two boys. Two of them are around here in Hastings the rest are Palmerston North.

You made mention earlier that you also used to play squash.

Yeah – we used to go down and play squash – a joker Ian Darragh, and I. He was higher up the Referees than I was in those days.  We’d go down on Saturday morning and have a game of squash. He was far too good for me so we’d play for a bottle of soft drink, and they had a machine there – I think you had to put two shillings, twenty cents or whatever it was – get a bottle out, and the winner which was usually Ian, he’d just – he’d walk off the court and go and sit in the dressing room and wait for his bottle of drink to be brought to him. Very seldom I’d beat him, it was a good workout. I used to play a lot of squash. I enjoyed that game. I was hopeless at tennis. Spent all the time going over the fence to pick up the balls, but squash I could play a bad shot and get away with it. Tennis you don’t do that.

It was surprising how you could be extended at squash too.

Oh yes.

I used to play at the Havelock North Club. There was a chap … was one of these players who just stood in the centre of the court and hardly moved.  I was quite fit, but he’d take me to the point where I could no longer …

Run you round – yeah, some of these people are very good, and you didn’t know how they got into that position that they didn’t have to move so much.

I know.  During all this period of doing all these activities at school you’ve always been a very loyal member of your church as well.

Yeah – I’ve always been a believer that if you’re in something, you’re in it. You work for it. I think squash is about the only Club I ever joined that I never finished up on the committee. If you’re in it long enough and you’re getting enjoyment out of it you’ve got to work towards it, and that’s the same as in the church. If I’m going to church well I’ve got to work for it, and yeah, put something into it to get something out of it.  Yeah.  That’s always been my belief on school committees and …

Were you with the main church or were you with the church in Raureka?

Well we started off in the main church in town, but for forty, fifty years now we’ve been at this one around in Gordon Road.  When my eldest daughter started school I got on the school committee. I finished up spending twenty-one years on that school committee. Yeah, yeah.  My youngest daughter left – you were put on for a three-year term and I think I had about eighteen months to go in the term, so I saw the term out.  So I was actually on the committee when I had no kids at the school. Yeah, I spent twenty-one years on that committee.  I worked at their galas – St Mary’s School gala – I did thirty-four galas, I worked at.  And I was going to do thirty-five, but I thought after the thirty-fourth one I thought ‘no, you’re just a silly old chap hanging around the place – get out’.  And I did.

It was quite interesting – we did haircuts, and we used to have queues of people waiting for haircuts.  And I did it on my own for two or three years and then Marie Chote joined me – she was a hairdresser. And we’re there flat out, queues of people just sitting waiting. After we’d been going an hour or two a guy got into my chair and he’s chatting away, talking away, talking away.  And he said to me, he said “are you two hairdressers are you?”  And I said “no.  No” I said “we’re actually school teachers here – we thought we’d just do this for the fun of it.”   And he never spoke another word. “Well you’ve been sitting there for an hour, you must have seen that we’ve got some knowledge of it”. But he never spoke another word. Probably got up and went home and had a look in the mirror.  [Chuckle]

Now while you did all this training – sports, you then decided to go on stage and became an Orphan and I believe you have been quite famous within the Club, with some of the skits you’ve been in. Tell us something about that.

Ross Hart, he’s always been at me “come and join the Orphans”, and I didn’t really know what the hell they were, but after a while to shut him up I said “okay, I’ll come and have a look”. And I quite enjoyed what was going on so I joined up. And that’s about seven, eight years ago now.  And I can’t sing but a lot of them are good singers and good musicians, but I joined what they call the ‘skit group’.  And I think there’s eleven of us in the skit group and they are such a great bunch of guys.  And I’d never been on stage before, I mean in my life, but they help you.  Yeah.  So we quite enjoy it – we’ve done some wonderful skits. Dave Sainor and I, we do a couple together, and ‘Lily’ is my name. There’s one about Dave comes into the barber’s shop wanting a shave, and he said he has trouble shaving – he said “my cheeks are all sunken in, and” he said “I can’t get a decent shave”. He said “can you do it?” I say “yeah, yeah – no trouble”. I say “look”, I say “I’ve got this little wooden ball here. You put it in your mouth and poke it against your cheeks to fluff them out, and I’ll shave”. So he did that, and I said “right, now do the other side”, and after we finish he takes the ball out of his mouth, hands it back to me.  “Gee”, he says “that’s beautiful – that’s a beautiful shave.  But” he said “what would’ve happened”, he said “if I’d swallowed that ball?”  I said “oh, you don’t worry about that.”  I said “you just bring it back tomorrow like everyone else has done.”  [Chuckle] 

Yeah, no they’re a great bunch of guys. They help you. We don’t force anyone into doing anything they don’t want to. We have members there that just come in, sit down, have a beer and they’d have supper and enjoy the concert and go home. We have a concert every fortnight and, being a charitable organisation we go to rest homes or anyone that wants us, and we collect in street appeals.  Yeah – if any organisation wants to go and put on a show for their Christmas function we do that. If they give us a donation that’s great for the Club, if they don’t – well, we haven’t lost anything. Yeah.  So yeah, that’s a lot of fun and this year I’m the chief … going to be the chief … so I’ll see how that goes – that mightn’t be so funny, but yeah.  Some wonderful talent down there and some not so wonderful and I’m in that category, but no one criticises.

No, it all makes a Club doesn’t it?

It does, it does. The ones that don’t do anything come and sit down as though they’re an equal part of the Club as any of the rest of us, and they’re important.  And we go away on raids – I think this year we’re raiding Horowhenua Club. We go down there on a Saturday and come back on a Sunday and have a wonderful time.

Yeah, I remember my apprenticeship – my boss was a very big bookmaker in town. They had a billiard room that they used just for their betting on Saturday races – there was no TAB in those days. I remember him saying to me one day, he said “if a horse pays £1/19/6,” he said “I give them £2, and they go away and say ‘gee, that Des is a bloody great guy, he gave me £2’”.  But he said “I didn’t”, he said “I only gave them 6d. I owed them £1.19.6.”  He said “if I give them £1.19.6”, he said “they go next door to the pub and they spend the 9/6d”, he said “I’d never get that back.” But he said “if I give them £2”, he said “they come back later and have a £ each way on the horses so I get the whole lot back.” [Chuckle]

Yes, we sort of forget as time’s moved on that there wasn’t always TABs.

No fear.  Yeah, the bookie was … yeah.  I think the TAB came in about the late 1950s, didn’t it?

Yes, it was.

Yeah, it certainly came in while I was with Des, because I can remember them talking about it.  Yeah, they made a lot of money. They used to come down from the billiard room Saturday night and hide the money in the rubbish bin behind the door in the barber’s shop amongst all the hair. And then they’d hide some more under the basin amongst the Friday night’s hair.  God, I used to see some rolls and rolls of money tied up with string.  And Des would – every Monday morning would put his hand down the bottom of the rubbish bin and pick out all this money. One day I beat him to it – I put the rubbish bin out for rubbish collection …

Oh my God.

… and the rubbish cart pulled up and luckily the guy in the back of it went to the other side of the road to pick up the rubbish bin there first, and Des has suddenly woken up that he hadn’t taken the money out.  So he rushes outside, and the poor young guy in the back of the rubbish bin watched this guy with his arm right down the bottom …

Pulling the money out.

… oh yeah. Yeah, they wouldn’t have got away with that today, hiding it in a rubbish bin in a barber’s shop. She would have been broken into very quickly. Yeah.

So over this time you also have done some travelling – I know you’ve been to your beloved Ireland.

Yes, been there twice, and yeah – been to England and we did Europe. We were a bit green the first time we went away but we certainly learnt one or two things. One of the – oh, I wouldn’t say the best trip – Eleanor and I flew to Dunedin one day, picked up a rental car and toured Southland and Central Otago. That was a fantastic ten days. Went out to Milford Sound, and yeah.

But no – I’ve got cousins in Ireland. I ring one up every … well our Boxing Day, her Christmas night it is over there … and have a chat with her. She’s been very good to me over the years.

Yes, just coming back to really what this interview’s about, and that’s about Brian McFlynn the barber.  And I’m interviewing Brian in his studio – we’ve got his chair sitting in front of me that’s empty. Normally he’s got one of us clients tied into it so he can look after us.  But the unique thing about Brian is the length of time as a hairdresser he’s been working in Hastings, and the other is the fact that he’s ‘by appointment’.  And that’s the most wonderful system that anyone could ever have because when I think back to the old hairdressers, you’d go in and you’d sit in a row of people – maybe seven or eight people. Here it’s personal attention. On his walls he’s got a sheet with the 40 years + club, he’s got a 50 year club and he’s got a 60 year club, so that tells you how long Brian’s been cutting hair. Brian, over that time you must have seen some major changes in hairdressing, although you’re still using the same chair that I think they used in ..?

Jimmy Donovan’s barber’s shop in 1884, I think this chair was. Then they were going to throw it away because they were modernising their salon, so I got it for nothing – it was going to be thrown out to the dump. Needed a little bit doing to it but it tidied up all right.  I liked it just because it was old.

But the 40 year club – I think, I don’t know, there’s probably forty guys in that club. One day a guy – Roly Wall – I was cutting his hair and Roly said to me, he says “you’ve been cutting my hair now for forty years.”   I said “is that right?” He said “yeah”, he said “I wonder if there’s any more”.  I said “oh, I wouldn’t have a clue”. He said “why don’t we start a club for the forty years?”  So that’s how that started. And then a few moved on to the fifty club which you’re on Frank, and the sixty year club – most of those I started cutting their hair no later than 1953, I would have started.   One of them up there, Maurice Elliot, he was the first full haircut I did on my own. I used to do the necks, or … the boss would straighten it up.  Then you were allowed to do a bit of the top, and he’d finish it. Then one morning he said “right.”  He said “today” he said “you’re going to do one without me interfering”. Mind you, he did watch, but “without me doing anything”, he says.  So in walks Maurice Elliot and got in the chair. I don’t know whether Maurice was aware he was the first full haircut, but he still comes back. He often says he only comes back to see if I’ve straightened it up.  [Chuckle]  Yes.  So I think there are about twelve there on the sixty year club.  A few – about the same – on the fifty year club.

So now how long is it then, that you have actually been hairdressing?

I’ve been hairdressing now for sixty-four years this March – I’ll have completed sixty-four years on the 1st March.

And that’s pretty good – you still don’t seem to have trouble with your legs?  Because …

Yeah, the legs are aching a bit nowadays, but that’s old age.

Dentists and barbers used to have tremendous problems with their legs, you know – a lot younger than you are now.

Yeah.  No I find that the legs ache a lot now, but Panadol help a bit. But yeah, the back’s given me trouble for a number of years, but now it’s the legs seem to be more of a problem.

But it’s been great – I can remember back to the fifties when the freezing works started around about October and ended about May, the season.  ‘Bout September – the end of September you’d see people coming in that you hadn’t seen since May. Where they wandered in the off-season I don’t know, but some of them were real hard cases, but nice chaps, and they just came back for the freezing works’ season. I think they lived out at the freezing works, so there must have been rooms out there. They’d live there and come into town, yeah. They must have gone somewhere in the off-season – I don’t know where.

Well having grown up amongst, I guess, horses, they must have played quite a major part in your young life. Did you ever have interest in horses at all?  Did you ever ride them?

No. I have ridden, but very minor. I was very, very young when I rode a horse. But no, I … oh, yeah, I thought about being a farrier but God, wrestling with some of those horses – some of these race horses were very highly strung. Funny thing – I never saw my father ever get in a temper with one of them. He’d be wrestling with them, trying to get shoes on and off. Yeah.  Draught horses used to come in – they were wonderful gentle old animals. So I thought ‘no, that looks pretty tough work for me’.  But my aim was always to try and be a cabinet maker or a barber, and while I had my eyes and ears open looking for an apprenticeship the barber one came up, so I thought ‘well that’ll do me’.

Well it certainly fitted the mould didn’t it?

It did. It did.  Yeah.  Well see if I’d been a cabinet maker I doubt whether I’d be doing it today. Most of that stuff’s mass produced overseas nowadays.

It’s interesting looking round the walls. Brian has quite a collection of memorabilia of yesterday. Things that we used to all take for granted once. And I guess in those days you sold tobacco, you sold Art Union tickets in the early days.

Golden Kiwi, the Tatts tickets – yeah, we always had that sort of thing going. It seemed to be a thing – if you were a barber you had to be a tobacconist, and sold wallets and billfolds and tobacco pouches. Yeah – and you had to … not that I was ever into bookmaking, but a number of them were – but we’d sell the old Australian Tattersall’s tickets and I think that was a wee bit illegal. But then the Golden Kiwi, and the Golden Kiwi was later replaced by Lotto.  Yeah, it’s been interesting. The pipes – I don’t know of anyone who sells a pipe now as far as I am aware – we used to have shelves full of them. I wouldn’t know where to go to get a pipe now.

So is there anything else you can think of that I don’t know about?

That you don’t know about – I think you know.  Yeah, it’s funny how things stick in your mind.  I can remember you know, back in the fifties kids only got one Christmas present and probably an orange and the salon was flat tack all day at Christmas. And after ten o’clock that night I was tidying up, putting all the papers away and swept out.  I came across a kiddie’s Christmas present all wrapped in Christmas paper. No one ever came back to get it. I don’t even remember what it was, but I felt quite sad, I thought ‘there’s some little child on Christmas day not getting a present.’  And even today fifty, sixty years later, I still feel sorry for that kid. And yet the kid’d be in his fifties today.

But I mean Christmas presents were special. Today they could not get one and it wouldn’t matter because the other dozen were there.

Yeah.  I always felt … even today I still feel quite sad for that little child that missed out on a Christmas present.  They’re long forgotten I’d say, but you only got one present.

I’m not up with technology – I didn’t try to keep up with it which was a mistake.  But I think it’s an amazing thing.  This lady in Gisborne, Mrs Alicia Butt, that my father boarded with – I often wondered about that lady.  And one of my customers who’s right into picking up all this information – he came in here one day and he had all this information on her. Her husband died when he was thirty-six, and she died when she was ninety-six, and she’s buried in the Hastings cemetery, Plot 161. Well that’s amazing.  So I thought one day I’m going to have to find that grave – don’t know the lady. So my daughter was home from Wellington for Christmas – she said “we’ll go up to the cemetery Christmas morning and find her grave”. She said “take a month” . So she got our her flash cell phone and she tapped in this lady’s name, what area of the cemetery was she, and it was in ‘N’.  So she said “right, we’ll go to the cemetery.” So we went to the cemetery, I think we had about four moves – she’d pick a grave, tapped a person’s name and what area were they in, and eventually we got to area ‘N’. Then she went to a grave there and she tapped in that person’s name and what number grave, and it was 49, so we just kept moving around until we came to 161. And I thought ‘modern technology, although I don’t use it, it’s absolutely marvellous’. We weren’t up there half an hour and we found this grave. Yeah.  So at least I know now where Alicia Butt is buried, and I don’t know why I wanted to know that ‘cause I’ve never met the lady. She died in 1944.

We had Butts living in Havelock. It’s not a common name in Hawke’s Bay.

No, it’s not – no.  Maybe that’s what fascinated me. She was obviously pretty good to my father when he came out as a nineteen-year-old. I just felt as though … yeah, have to find out more about her.

Well one other interest you’ve got Brian and that is going around Hastings with your camera and taking photos of areas where buildings were … you just had an interest in historical …

Yeah, I have an interest in old things. If I hear of a building going to be pulled down I rush away and take a photo of it then I go back and try and stand in the same place and take a photo of what’s replaced it. And I like to get old photos and then go and take a photo of what that is like today, and I put them in scrap books, just for my own interest. When I go they’ll go too I would imagine, but yeah, it’s just an interest. I like taking photos of old things and things that aren’t going to be around in years to come.

Well as I’ve said to you earlier Brian we must get those photos digitalised [digitised] at the Knowledge Bank.

Yeah, I would imagine the Knowledge Bank’s got quite a few of them anyway I would think.

You’ve been up there and had a …

Yes, I went up there and saw James. You know, they’re a pretty busy outfit up there putting all this stuff on CDs or whatever they put them on.   But yeah, James had a look through my book. He gave me a bit of a rocket that I’m only doing Hastings, I should be doing the whole of Hawke’s Bay. But no, they’re pretty busy up there. A lady, Leigh White I think her name is, she worked up there. She used to tell me how busy they were. I think she has retired now.

Yes, a lot of the people that actually work there are retired. We’ve got forty volunteers and some of them might spend four or five hours a week, some might spend ten hours a week but collectively forty people make a difference and those people are very, very skilled at what they do with computers whether they edit or type or whether they copy. They are just very clever at what they do, and if it wasn’t volunteers we couldn’t afford to do it. It would be too costly.

Some people have the knowledge of computers and they can help. I think New Zealand would be sunk without volunteers and the Knowledge Bank is no different. But I think it’s amazing, the Knowledge Bank, how they’re restoring up all this information for people in another hundred years.

All right.  Well I think we’ve probably extracted all that we can … the garden – are you responsible for the garden?

I do the garden, eighty per cent of the gardening. I enjoy my garden.

It always looks wonderful.

Thank you.

And I love your little signs, ‘specially the one about the weeds, and the one that ‘nothing happened here’.  But Brian, just in finishing I’d just like to thank you for this interview and also what a pleasure it’s been actually coming to have our hair cut. I can speak for all those people that have come here.

Thank you.

But I know we don’t come here for the haircut, we come here to see you, and hear you.

Thank you, Frank.

It’s like a lot of things in life – it’s like you going to the Orphans Club doing something that you would never be comfortable with but because you are with people you like and doing things …

You do it.  I’ve always said my place of work has to be an enjoyable place where there has got to be a fun thing. If I can’t laugh at hurt, well then – chuck it in.

Why don’t other men’s hairdressers have appointments?

Yeah, John Simons tried it but it didn’t seem to work for John. But none of the others will try it – I don’t know why. They just like to queue. There’ll be many hours in the day when they’ll do a lot more haircuts in that hour than I will, but then mine goes all day.

At your pace.

At my pace, yeah.

All right, well thank you, Brian.

Thank you, Frank.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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