The traditional barber’s pole is white and red. White for lather, and red for blood – the blue you see on American barber’s poles is a fairly new aberration. These colours, along with a washbasin on top of the pole and one on the bottom, advertised the barber’s trade. Or, perhaps more correctly, the barber-surgeon’s trade.

A university educated doctor wouldn’t sully his hands with blood, gore, and poor people. So a barber, who already had sharp blades and a hopefully steady hand, would double as a surgeon for those little things that needed doing to a body.

The white is the lather, as mentioned, and represent the fact that the barber could shave you. And give you a haircut too.

The red is the blood, representing the, well, blood that would flow during surgery. And tooth extractions, which a skilled barber-surgeon would also do.

The upper wash basin represented the vessel which would hold leaches. Leaches were used to drain blood in a somewhat controlled manner.

Bleeding – good for what ails you!

The lower basin was representing the vessel that the blood would run into. Unless it ran all over the floor. Maybe the walls too, if the barber-surgeon was a bit of a klutz and the patient didn’t sit still.

And the pole? The pole itself represented the pole or bar the patient would hold on to to encourage the blood to flow…. or cling to while the barber-surgeon performed operations ranging from removal of teeth to removal of limbs. Or a trepanning – cutting a hole in your skull to let the demons out.

It is worth recalling that this was in the days when surgical precision really meant to within an inch or two, accompanied by a lot of screaming, and then they pour hot tar on you just where your leg was. And anesthesia was limited to alcohol, or perhaps a soporific sponge if your barber-surgeon was a well educated man (most likely he was not). I would certainly enjoy a pole to hold on to for dear life in those circumstances.

The Wound Man, showing some of the injuries a barber-surgeon would know how to deal with. Haircut optional.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that blood and shaving has always been closely connected. But while I might still get a nick or two when shaving, I prefer my blood letting to be in more more controlled manner, and for better reasons.

Like… donating blood, for example. That is a good thing to do, and each bag of blood can – my local blood bank tells me – save up to three lives. And when I donate plasma, it goes even further.

Better to give…

So if you can, I would encourage you all to donate blood – either whole or plasma. It is quick, it is painless, and it helps others.

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