Monday, February 11, 2008

The Queen Is Dead 

“So can you tell me about your hair?” asks Lisa, who will be my stylist this evening.
She is running her fingers through my luscious flowing locks, prodding my head here, patting it there, checking for texture and unusual bumps.
She wears the expression of the professionally concerned, as if she were a vet presented with a sick piglet. I expect her to ask “And when did you first notice there was a problem?”

“Well,” I say, suddenly aware of my lack of fluency in salon-speak. “It's quite long. I think it needs, erm, shortening.”
I wave my hand in the general direction of the northern hemisphere of my head. “Sort of here, and maybe here too,” I suggest cluelessly. “But I quite like my floppy fringe. Leave that long-ish, if possible. Please.”
My floppy fringe keeps me boyish looking and cute. It is far and away my best feature.

“Don't worry,” she solemnly reassures me. “This is what we're going to do.”
Then she describes how and why she plans to take some of the weight off, and thin it out a bit, and trim around my ears (rather than through them, which is comforting) and fluff and feather and tussle and generally liven things up a bit. I feel like a 1960s living room about to be redecorated.

I think about Dad, who would have run a mile before entering an establishment like this. He'd have been scared stiff.
Never one for parting with money on something he could literally take a good stab at himself, for him the expression 'pudding bowl haircut' meant precisely that. I was eleven years old before I entered my first gentleman's hairdressers', which is how long it took to save up the pocket money.
The archetypal English amateur enthusiast, inventing nuclear fission in his garden shed purely as a cheapskate alternative to buying a microwave, Dad's frugalness even extended to performing his own dentistry.
Lisa orders another cappucino and leads me away to be shampooed.

I would have been twenty two, shy and alone in an unfamiliar town, when I first had my hair professionally washed.
It needed cutting so I stepped into the nearest hairdressers' I found and washing was part of the package. I hated it.
It felt seedy and wrong, as if I'd violated the girl's space and she'd violated mine. An unwelcome incursion into my comfort zone. It felt like one small step away from paying for sexual favours.

Now I'm older and more self-assured, and I'm neither disgusted nor excited by the thought of a stranger washing my hair.
Which isn't to say that I don't quite like it, because I do. It's relaxing. And the remote controlled chair that massages your back, as if there was a dwarf running up and down inside the padding, is relaxing and kind of fun too.
I've merely stopped over-processing the political implications.

I began coming here about a year ago, mainly because I was curious to see for myself the difference between a £5 haircut and a £35 one. It's a bit like when you try your first expensive bottle of wine, to see if there really can be a justification in that Bloody Hell! How Much??? price hike.
And do you know what? I think you can notice the difference. For one thing, young women try to cop off with you at Air gigs, which is worth thirty five quid of anybody's money.

“When did you last have it cut?” asks Lisa and I can't remember. Five months? Six? I've let it grow quite long this time, again out of curiosity.

On a good morning, if I've managed to apply the unguents correctly, I look ravishing. Stallionesque. Handsome beyond belief. Ladies and gentlemen of all persuasions - quite frankly you would. I'm the stuff of your wildest dreams.
By the time I reach the office, its already starting to unravel. These wet and windy winter mornings aren't kind to one of such coiffeured excellence. I'm dishevelled and not in a good way.
By lunchtime I'm a sociopath. My boyishly floppy fringe has become a greasy, menacing seventies style side parting. In huge tabloid font it screams the words Serial Killer. Don't let this man into your homes, your schools, your neighbourhoods. Call the police and do not approach.
I am more Fred West than George Best, the stuff of your parents' nightmares, and this is what Lisa is here to fix, although I don't put it to her in so many words.

She snips and I sip my coffee and we burble contentedly about holiday plans and our respective employers and traffic congestion in and out of Preston.
This is what I've learned from my year in thirty five quid haircuts: I've had male stylists and female stylists, and none of them ever give you what you ask for. They just do what they were going to do anyway. I've come to the conclusion that they are simply projecting onto you the hairstyles they wish their boyfriends had.

I look into the mirror and it's all gone. My boyishness, my devilish charm, my rakish fringe all vanished, gone somewhere nice on it's holidays, won't be back for a good few weeks at least. Floor sweepings.

Lisa asks how I like it and I say “Great thanks,” hand her my credit card and she books me in for another appointment three months from now.

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