John Gulliver: Fossil finds at the barbershop

'Especially for the kids, it’s like a museum'

Monday, 4th April — By John Gulliver

Michael Vasili

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Detectorist barber Michael Vasili

WITH the arrival of spring bringing to mind images of lambs and freshly shorn sheep, I thought it was time for a haircut.

I meandered down Highgate Road in that cloudless mid-morning sun, catching the lull between the end of the school run and shoppers emerging from their homes to call in at the stores in Kentish Town Road.

Sooner or later, crossing the road, I went into George’s, a family barbers that has been in Kentish Town since 1989. Initially it looks and sounds like any other, the snipping of scissors and buzzing of clippers to a background of Magic FM.

However taking a closer look, you can see that George’s is unlike any other barbers in Camden. As well as the usual hairdressing paraphernalia there is a collection of old coins, fossils, bullets and other old artefacts discovered by its owner, Michael Vasili, a keen metal detectorist.

“I started seven years ago when an uncle of my friend said he was going and would I like to go along,” he explained over the hum of the trimmer. “I’ve always loved treasure films, you know, The Goonies and things like that, they’re great. I go up with my friends or my wife occasionally, it’s peaceful and it’s lovely, especially in the sunshine.”

He dug a recent find out of his pocket, discovered five weeks ago during a foray along one of his usual farmers’ fields in Hertfordshire. The best time of the year to go, he tells me, is usually autumn, but he got a quick detecting in before farmers started to plough their fields ready for planting.

“It’s a coin from James I,” he said, showing me the silver piece of treasure in its case. “You can see the coat of arms on the one side and then if you turn it you can see his head. I’ve found loads before there, some Roman coins, and one from William the Conqueror.

“I’ve got fossils, you can usually spot them on the surface when they’ve been ploughed up, lead weights, buttons, lockets, bells and even a First World War shell – it had the timer attached to it so you could see when it went off.

“You get loads of horseshoes from throughout time,” he added, pointing out one just above my chair on a beam, kept for good luck.

A cabinet of finds

Michael grew up in Camden and went to Acland Burghley School in Tufnell Park.

He was told by his careers adviser at 16 that he would be best placed to go and work in his dad George’s salon.

“I don’t think they thought I was the brightest. I came down here, they put me on a course or something, paid a lump sum, and I started here. It’s just over 20 years ago now.”

His dad has since retired, but pops in occasionally to keep an eye on things and chat to his son and customers.

Michael said that trade was still down after Covid, with other barbers opening up after the first lockdown. As he got going with the scissors, triggering my dismay at an ever-increasing amount of grey hairs, he told me that he hopes the finds will be a point of interest for long-locked customers. He’s recently bought a new cabinet to house his latest yields.

“Especially for the kids, it’s like a museum, they can come in and see all sorts of things they never would have seen before. It’s something different and you wouldn’t expect it here.”

I paid up, offering him some up-to-date currency, although much like the Stuart times, the Sovereign is still on our coinage. Next time you’re in Kentish Town and in need of a trim, pop in and see what else Michael’s discovered recently.

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