When I walk into his shop in Camberwell, Alberto Petrozzi is standing in front of the mirror shaving his beard while talking on the phone to his wife. He starts telling me about his life as soon as he hangs up the phone. What a long life it has been, Alberto is an extraordinary 84 years old barber.
“My name is Alberto Petrozzi, I was born in Newcastle, like my five brothers and one sister, but my parents took us to Italy when I was 4 years old. They were born in Sora, Italy, but they lived in England almost all their life. In 1914, my father, a shoemaker, moved here because Italy was poor; people needed to work but could not find jobs. When we went back to Italy in 1936, my father joined the army, I went to school under Mussolini and I learnt to be a barber.”
I ask him about Italian people in England.
“I have had Italian clients and I used to go to Saint Peter’s Church to meet my Italian friends. For a while, less people moved here because Italy was getting better, but now the migration has started again because of the new crisis.”
When I ask him to talk about himself, he smiles; he is confident and calm.
“When we moved back to England, in 1948, I started working in different shops. I was 17 and since then I have never tried a different job. I opened my shop in Camberwell in March 1961 and I love my job, it gives me the chance to talk to people every day. I have known some of my clients for years, others died, others moved back to their countries.”
I ask him if he feels Italian or British, if he is glad to be here, if he regrets anything.
“I am Italian, but I love England. Moving here was hard at the start. I had to work, save money and become the person I am now, but I am very happy I stayed. I would have nothing in Italy. When I was younger, I used to go to the church, to the Big Ben or to Soho to dance. I loved it, but at the end of the day, I have worked all my life. I happened to be here and to start my business here but it could have been anywhere else in the world.”
What about Camberwell?
“I have always worked here and lived in Southampton. Camberwell has not changed much; there are more buses and people have changed a lot. This area used to be British, while now it is all about foreigners. There is not much going on here. They have always wanted to open a tube station, which will never happen, and there has been crime, especially at night. Camberwell is a bit dangerous, like most places in London. Something bad happened years ago. I was in my shop talking to two clients, when a man drove into my window and smashed it. We were lucky nothing happened to the two women.”
What about Italy?
“I used to go to Italy very often because we have a house there, but we have not left England for a few years now since my wife is sick and cannot move. What would be the point in going to Italy to stay in bed? My son and daughter, married to an Irish woman and a British man, go on holidays there but their life is here and I cannot blame them. I have travelled a lot in my life but, anytime I could, I went back to Italy. Do I miss it? I have stopped missing Italy a long time ago. I have my Italian television here and I watch it every night when my wife goes to sleep. She does not like to listen to people talking in Italian.” He laughs.
He will give his shop to his son and daughter when he will retire. “I do not know what they will do with it. There are no other barbers in my family.” He sighs, then smiles.
“Now I need to go home to cook for my wife. Take care.”