Saturday 2 January 2010

Hair Affairs

Aged 11
I have never liked people fiddling with my hair. My husband used to swoon with delight when first our daughters and then our granddaughters plaited his golden curls. Sadly this doesn't happen any more; tempus fugit and so does the hair (would that be 'coma fugit'?) He's also extremely ticklish and loves to have his back tickled – a form of Indian massage first practised on him by his ayah. I'm not ticklish at all, not even my feet, and any massage I have must be firm and strong, not tentative and feathery.
When I was a child I had long hair, as straight as a yard of pump water. My mother would plait it, brushing out the tangles first. Her response to my ouches of protest never varied – 'You have to suffer to be beautiful.' Looking in the mirror these days I can see I didn't suffer enough at all. During the summer months the head lice really seemed to get into their stride and as my hair was always shining clean they made a bee-line (louse-line?) for my head. The consequence of this was that my hair would be coated plastered in a foul-smelling eye-watering paste that was impossible difficult to wash out (more pain) Following this my mother would spread a white napkin on her lap, take a metal fine-tooth comb and rake my tresses from roots to tips to remove any eggs left behind. It was sheer purgatory!
My sister, fifteen years my senior, trained as a hairdresser and when I was about four our mother asked her if she could put something on my fair hair to lighten it. Beryl duly applied the peroxide (my scalp still stings to think of it) but forgot to wash it out so I went from fair to white bottle-blonde! It must have looked quite startling with my pale skin and hazel-brown eyes! Aged eleven and about to enter grammar school I decided I would like to have my hair cut short. My long thick plaits disappeared and I discovered that short hair needed much more work to keep tidy and looking presentable. I remember curling tongs, heated to an uncomfortable temperature and applied to my locks to encourage them to curl. The smell of singeing keratin only added to my fear certainty that I would soon have curling, smoking skin on my neck.
Later my mother and I decided that a 'perm' might be the answer to my steadfastly vertical hair. Rather than go to a hairdresser we used a concoction sold for home use. Oh dear! I had forgotten until this moment the horror of the resulting mess. Time has erased all memory of the ensuing weeks as the dreadful frizz grew out. Almost as bad was the time she and I decided to try a different colour – my mother was always a willing accomplice. Now that I think about it I realise she may have been a hairdresser manqué. We thought it would be fun to lighten my dark mouse hair. I don't know what went wrong but I had to endure several weeks of a nasty gingerish colour which grew out very slowly. Why does hair never grow quickly when you really, really want it to? I have no objection to ginger hair – in its many tones and shades it is quite beautiful with the correct complexion. It looked completely wrong on me; although I do have natural red lights in my hair the basic colour is boring mid-brown.
In the following years I wore my hair long, short and frequently coloured, though never by professionals. At various times I determined to have my hair properly cared for but rarely maintained the routine. I find hairdressers intimidating! Maybe it's my imagination or maybe I really am  neurotic do read too much into other people's expressions. Do I imagine the curl of the lip as hands flip carelessly through my hair?
                                           Aged 40
More than that, it is the lighting and the mirrors that are very off-putting. I rarely study myself in the looking glass, unlike some members of my family one or two people of my acquaintance who cannot pass a mirror without stopping to scrutinise their reflections. Some people appear quite relaxed in the harsh glare but I am conscious that looking like a drowned rat gorilla is not a flattering look. I spend my time looking through the mirror at clients behind me as they conduct animated conversations with their stylists. I hear them enthusiastically recounting their latest projects – the AmDram tells of her starring role, the self-assured 17-year-old boy from the local independent school regales everyone in earshot with his views on life and the universe, the woman in her mid-thirties tells of her house move to an exclusive estate, the retired businessman recounts thrilling events from his luxury cruise. I listen and marvel that they are confident their listeners will be interested.
I have had one or two hairdressers who, refreshingly, didn't constantly attempt to engage me in chitchat and a couple who were happy to talk about themselves. Usually the pattern is thus:
Stylist: 'Have you been working today?'
Me: 'No, I stopped working some time ago.'
Stylist: 'Are you ready for Christmas/going away/got any plans for Easter/doing anything later?'
Me: (rapidly considering responses and discarding them as inappropriate) Ermm, no, not really.
I know that this exchange will be repeated when I see her again next time. I know she's really not interested but simply following the script.
By the way, my hair is quite long again!
                In the forest with Bethan, December 2009 - simply aged!


  1. What a wonderful post. All that talk about hair.

    I too had long hair as a child, but I prefer to keep it shorter now.

    For some strange reason, perhaps because we could not boast the cleanness of hair that you describe, I never suffered from lice as a child, but my children have and didn't we know it.

    It's the scourge of the western world and cruel as it is for the children who must endure the lice removal, it's also cruel on the parents, especially the eyes of parents, nit picking their way though so many heads of hair.

  2. It's interesting to see my children worrying about head lice on their children - and wonderful to know I've done my bit and don't have to endure the protests and the smell!

  3. I had long hair as a child too, until my twin brother cut off one of my pigtails. I grew it again as a teenager and can remember the agony of lying on the floor in front of the fire trying to dry it before going out (didn't have the luxury of a hair dryer) I keep it short now as it's often stuffed under a hat or being blown about in our strong winds. Thanks for bringing back happy memories janice.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post as I can so relate, and the photos were lovely. I loathe going to the hairdressers by the way. My hair always gets way too long before I will walk through those doors. The floor to ceiling mirrors don't help but I'm not sure what the real reason is, maybe I don't enjoy sitting in that chair watching my hair fall to the floor? Who knows! I stopped trying to figure it out years ago.

  5. Chris - thank you!What a lovely brother! You've woken a distant memory . . .
    Denise - it's good to know there are others like me who avoid the hairdresser! Who in the world likes floor to ceiling mirrors?

  6. Interesting and a hairy tale. When I was young, my mom ensured that on every Thursday and Sunday, I had an oil bath. Till now, I think this has left my hair in good stead. Shall keep visiting. Happy New Year.

  7. Thank you nsiyer! I think your mother was ahead of her time - good for your skin as well :-) Happy 2010 to you too!


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