Thursday 11 August 2011

Keep Aaron Cutting

Amidst all the vileness of the events of the last few days are some positive stories and the launch of “Keep Aaron Cutting” is one of these. You can find the details on
In brief an 89 year old barber who has run his barber shop in Tottenham over several decades turned up on Sunday to find it had been looted – even the kettle had been stolen. Some interns at a London advertising agency, BBH, wanted to show that both social media and young people can be a force for good and set up a campaign to raise money to refurbish the shop. The excess money will go to the community.
This story touched me and reminded me of how a barber played a very important role in my father’s life. My paternal grandfather died while my father was at university in South Africa studying medicine. The family had no money but all the six children were very musical and well taught. He took his classical talents and set up a jazz band and played in night clubs at night and studied during the day and put himself through medical school in this way – this by the way was during the 1930s.
Every two weeks (until he died) he would go to the barber for a haircut. The barber’s name was Nissel Burlin. He had a barber shop in the centre of Johannesburg and had come to South Africa as an immigrant. His wife had a shop next door called Bridal Fabrics and the material for my wedding dress came from there. The family went on to success in the fabric business running a large wholesale company but Nissel still cut hair in his barber shop.
When my father had to go to Edinburgh to qualify as a surgeon – this wasn’t possible in South Africa then. The journey both ways was by ship and he was going to be away several months. This was before the days of international phone calls or even airmail! He gave Nissel power of attorney to look after his affairs and in case anything should happen, because he trusted him, he was familiar with business which my grandmother wasn’t. He had saved a bit of money and was persuaded to play the stock market. Without really understanding the consequences he acted on a tip that a certain share was certain to fall in price and sold them short. (Short selling is the selling of a stock or share that the seller doesn't own. The broker lends it to you from their own inventory – within a time period you have to cover the shares, ie buy them in reality, and if the price drops you can buy them back at a lower price and make a profit on the difference.)
In this case the price did not drop but rose and the shares had to be bought at a higher price and the difference paid to the broker. My father did not have the money in his account – any spare cash he had went with him to Edinburgh to pay for his living expenses.
Nissel covered the shortfall and only told my father when he returned some months later. My father was horrified and Nissel told him not to worry- “Doctor I think you are a good investment”. Of course the money was repaid in full and they remained firm friends until my father’s death in 1968. I am forever grateful to Nissel’s son Percy who has looked after my father’s grave in Johannesburg in our absence.
So Aaron – it is payback time and my donation to the campaign to keep you cutting is in memory of Nissel and my father.