Ian McMillan: Half the time I’m counting in Dead Caps and Bristles

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I was in the barber’s the other day getting my quiff tamed and my eyebrows remixed and we started talking about Mad Geoff, the legendary Darfield barber who cuts hair in the shop for half of the week. “Do you think Geoff will ever retire?” I asked, and the other-half-of-the-week barber held up one of those brushes that people like Mad Geoff use to brush the hairs off your neck and said: “I asked Geoff about that and he said: ‘When the bristles on that brush are done, I’m done’.” I’m delighted to report that the bristles were strong and healthy so thankfully there’s no danger of Geoff hanging up his clippers any time soon.

When I left the barber’s and walked home I started developing a theory that, by the time I’d gone past the bus shelter, I’d started to call Bristle Time. It’s a complex idea, or perhaps I’ve not really worked it out properly, but it’s basically about measuring the passing of time by the changes that we see in objects around us, particularly Yorkshire objects.

So, for example, the change from the batter in the bowl to the Yorkshire pudding on the table is normally about 20 minutes, if the oven is nice and hot. If you ring your wife to tell her what time you’re going to be home you can say: “I’ll be back in two and a half Yorkshire Puddings.” She’ll know what you mean: 50 minutes. And because the unit of time that you call a Yorkshire Pudding isn’t an exact 20 minutes, it doesn’t matter if your train is a little late. I told you it was a complicated theory.

There used to be a man near us who ran a corner shop and who would always go down to the pub at ten to eleven, after he’d sorted his till out and bagged his change up, and glug five pints rapidly, like he was pouring water down a plughole. “Watch him sink 
them five,” my father-in-law would say with a mixture of admiration and horror as the shopkeeper lined up the full glasses and, like a conjuror, made the beer disappear. So the 10 minutes supping time could be divided into five two-minute sections, each of which could be called a pint. “Will you be long before you’re ready to go out?” “I’m nearly there: just another two and a half pints!”

Let’s take a longer measure of time: it might help us to get our heads round my new and groundbreaking idea. If you had the same flat cap for years and years, how long would it take for the neb to perish under the constant pressure of the cap being taken on and off? Twenty years? Twenty five? It depends how many times you take your cap on and off, of course, but I reckon two decades is about right. So, for a measure of time, a Dead Cap is a considerable span. You can imagine the conversation, in a small West Yorkshire pub. “How long is it since Derek tripped over that bike wheel on his way to the betting shop?” “Eee, it’ll be at least a Dead Cap.” “Aye, I reckon that’s true; and do you remember, he didn’t stop shouting rude words for at least a Yorkshire Pudding and a half.”

I think I might be on to something here. I think I’ll be due a Nobel Prize soon!

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