OPINION: Hairport closes its doors as retiring Paul Carpenter hangs up his scissors

North Devon Gazette

For some 32 years, Paul Carpenter, originally from Milton Keynes, has been trimming the locks of Ilfracombe’s men and boys at his High Street barber shop, Hairport. And it’s a proper blokey barber, too. No flowers, no ladies’ magazines, no nail bar and no unnecessary frippery. Not even a cushion. Â

Regular customers are aware that when you sit on the end of its wobbly waiting bench, the other end will lift into the air unless somebody else is counterbalancing your weight. Paul is acquainted with everyone in Ilfracombe; there are few chaps living in the town who haven’t, at one time or another during their lives, experienced Paul’s scissors shearing through their manes.Â

His clients have clocked up three decades of loyalty to the town’s longest serving hairdresser, starting with the first mop removal endured before one’s first day at school, and years later, the tidy-up prior to an important job interview.Â

Each haircut would produce over time various piles of black, brown, blonde or ginger hair, inevitably turning grey. Moreover, as those scalps have aged, Paul has found himself blow-drying the precious remaining strands of the same guys, now middle-aged, and many lucky to have any hair left at all. Â

Paul, like all good hairdressers, has mastered the art of the ten-minute conversation. Gifted with his encyclopaedic mental archive of Ilfracombe’s history and characters, he has cultivated an instantly retrievable database of Ilfrafacts second to none.Â

Hairport boasts a vast collection of china shaving mugs assembled over a lifetime, including one of French pewter rescued from oblivion in its native country.Â

Sadly, though, Paul has announced his retirement after a spell of ill-health, but let’s hope his premises will pass to a worthy successor.Â

For all the human occupations being replaced by computerised artificial intelligence, heaven forbid boffins creating some talking Metal Mickey capable of snipping and styling whilst discussing Ilfracombe football club’s last match.Â

I can just hear the chatty robot coming out with ‘I see Arsenal were out for three wickets at Wimbledon’, before crashing. Much missed will be Paul’s spectacular window themes celebrating major events both national and local, always a joy to behold. He was at the cutting edge!Â


Returning late at night to Ilfracombe from Essex last weekend I was cheered by the three red lamps atop each of the wind turbines at Mullacott Cross. One of them, costing nearly a million pounds, powers catering supplier Philip Dennis’s freezers. The business has prospered mightily since it was started by butcher Archie Dennis on a Braunton kitchen table.Â

Like benign lighthouses, the turbines’ glow greets drivers and passengers tired after a lengthy drive, or just a Barnstaple night out. Not everyone loves wind energy, but one way of learning to coexist with things you dislike is to bestow them with a cuddly moniker.Â

Henceforth, they are Rag, Tag and Bobtail, after the riverbank residing characters featured in BBC Television’s eponymous 1950s children’s series, largely forgotten by all but Britain’s oldies. That shows my age, doesn’t it?Â

Happy TalkÂ

I knew it existed, but I’ve taken my first gander at Gossip Around Ilfracombe’s Facebook page. All human life is there, and a valuable source of information to find out where to get a broken tumble-dryer fixed, or appeal for the whereabouts of your cat who’s failed to turn up for its tea.Â

A core of regular contributors from a two thousand membership update the site and I was amused to learn of a neighbour’s pyjama trousers discovered in someone’s garden with three pegs still attached. Meanwhile, the finder of a mobile phone left in Chickenland is anxious to return the device to its owner, whilst another Ilfracomber laments the ‘impossibility’ of seeing, for love nor money, a doctor.Â

There’s intrigue, too. Who’s the culprit generating indignance by clandestinely putting their recycling stuff into another household’s bin? Does any reader recall Bernard Cribbins’ 1962 comic song, ‘Gossip Calypso’? If so, I’m afraid it might now churn around your head all day. Sorry!