I had my hair cut this week. I have it snipped at by the estimable Eddie from BA1Hair (@ba1hair) in Bath because the lad is a craftsman, frankly, and he doesn’t chit chat and therefore the whole experience is very Zen.
This was not always the case for myself and my mane. I am not the kind of woman who likes to go for a blow dry really or to have her roots done, my roots along with the rest of my tresses are a grey colour these days. I have not always looked on a haircut as a positive experience hence the fact that in recent times I actually let the lot grow until it was down to my waist.
When I was a kid our hair was cut, firstly, by my mum, a similar experience to sheep-shearing by Salvador Dali. I had an edgy hipster fringe long before there were edgy hipsters. There was the infamous ‘urchin’ cut too, think Artful Dodger meets unfortunate incident with a kitchen whisk and you’re most of the way there.
Finally my mum decided that we were too old to have our hair slashed by Sheila any longer and so we began to go to Adam and Eve, a newly ‘unisex’ salon, where Jean and her daughters cut hair. This was always a lovely experience, a mother daughter event on every level with my mum getting her hair permed or cut alongside myself and my sister. This was the era when I had a ‘Purdey’ cut, the one sported by Joanna Lumley in The New Avengers. I loved it although it must be said that at eleven I did not have the cheekbones or elan of Ms Lumley, no matter how precisely Jean cut my mop.
The 80s dawned and saw me invest in several thousand curly perms. My hair is very straight and fine although, as several weary hairdressers have commented over the years ‘there’s a lot of it’. In a bid to outsmart mother nature I grew my hair and I had it permed and that was that. Hair bliss. I felt like a Pre-Raphaelite beauty although if you check the photographic evidence I bore more resemblance to a Poodle.
Over the years there have been only a few people I trusted to cut my hair. The most trusted was a young woman called Lisa who worked at a local salon. This woman always did my hair exactly the way it was ‘in my head’. You know the usual drill, you pick out a hairstyle that you like and then you go to the actual hairdresser. ‘This is how I’d like it’ you say and point at the picture and they can only do three sorts of cut so they just pick the one that is closest to the picture that you show them. At least, that was my experience.
Then I met Lisa. She was skilled and my hair looked good and then one day I showed up at the salon to be told she had moved to Cardiff and that another girl, let’s call her Wilma, would be cutting my hair.
She would be cutting my hair after she had eaten her lunch, a chinese takeaway of sweet and sour pork. I am not making this up.
In the 90s I had my kids and chopped at my hair with any available implement in the brief moments available between feeds and fingerpainting.
On one occasion when they were at school I thought I would treat myself to a cut and colour at a swanky type salon. It is the only time I have ever walked out. The girl said when I showed her the cut I wanted ‘You can’t have that. You’re too old.’ I was thirty six and the cut in question was a choppy bob, not the most radical of styles. In other times I might have sat in the chair and been given the shampoo and set that she clearly had planned for me. Instead, utterly deflated, I said simply ‘I’ll go then’. And I got up and left, taking the sleek space age coverall off as I did so. She was so shocked, and suddenly so contrite as her supervisor watched me leave the building.
After that little fiasco I let it grow. I permed it once or twice. I snipped the more irritating bits off with the pinking shears, the breadknife, the toenail scissors.
It was when it finally got down to my waist and was not permed that I reached a nadir of hair fashion. It was so long that it took about a week to dry each morning and it was snarled in everything. I took to simply twisting it around itself and clamping it to my head. In my imagination I was Victorian, dreaming once more of the Pre-Raphaelite look. In reality I looked like someone’s ratty granny.
Enter, Eddie and his scissors. When faced with the opportunity to chop my waist length hair into a pixie cut he was not fazed, nor did he question my age or current status as a trendsetter. He offered a few bits of advice about how we could go about this epic cropping and the second he cut the first section I felt relieved and more like myself. Hence, I have returned. As I have said, he is not a chatterbox, there is something meditative about the process of a haircut and all the stress vanishes. Sometimes I eavesdrop on other conversations as Eddie combs and sections, before I begin to drift. The story sludge of my mind gloops and bubbles and I think I have solved more plot problems sitting in the chair at BA1 Hair than almost anywhere. I don’t want to work out the magic of this process. Is it the meditative qualities of having your hair shampooed with lush smelling botanicals? Or possibly being swathed in a black cloak? Then there is the snip-snip of the scissors, the discarding of the outgrown, the neatening of edges.
Perhaps that’s the key, unlike Samson, a writer needs to have their hair cut from time to time in order to edit out the tangles of story.
This blog post is a bit of frothy nonsense. However, check out Eddie Ilic and his journey for a real story. #Notallheroeshavecapes
A barber is offering haircuts to those on the streets in Bath to help give them confidence. pic.twitter.com/XsTBe9Gkxh
— RT UK (@RTUKnews) September 17, 2017
Usually, they are a twosome but today Hell’s Grannies brought reinforcements to the pool. There was quite a gaggle of them loitering in the shallow end like mermaids, swishing and sploshing so that they were hard to count and even harder to get past.
I call them Hell’s Grannies but don’t get me wrong, these swimming ladies don’t wear leather biker gear or swing their handbags at unsuspecting passers by. They have that twinkly pink quality that I ought to aspire to.
I don’t. I think the devil himself is afraid of a twinkly pink senior ‘lady’, one with immaculate grey or blonded hair and a glimmer to her lipstick. Her shell pinked toes peek out from sling backs and sandals even in winter and there’s that year round topped up Capri tan. I slop up and down the pool in my utilitarian Speedo ‘Endurance’ special with long legs (the suit, not me). These ladies are goddess like, the continental shelves of their bosoms sculpted by highly engineered lycra in rainbows of green, cascades of pink or sweeps of genoese fancy blue. Their hair, even after an hour in the water, looks as if they just stepped away from the hairdressing salon.
On exiting the pool I look like a salmon that someone has recently landed, gasping and ungainly. These ladies slip on their flip-flops and glide to the changing rooms. These are the ladies who have ball gowns and go on cruises.
I imagine they hog the pool there too.
That’s why I christened them Hell’s Grannies. The rule in the pool, even in the slow lane, my lane of choice and ability, is that you swim clockwise, single file. This is because you only have one lane and sometimes there are six or more swimmers not drowning in it.
At the morning session there are usually a couple of elderly gentleman who swosh up and down with the stately speed of icebergs drifting over the Atlantic. I personally swim as if I just fell off the Titanic and am striking out for land. It isn’t pretty but my head is above the waterline.
It is a quite different crowd at the lunchtime sessions. Here, prior to a lovely pink and twinkly lunch somewhere, let’s imagine a prawn, marie rose, pink gin affair, we find Hell’s Grannies. They slip into the water and swim two abreast up and down the lane and have a chat. Sometimes they don’t swim at the shallow end, they have a bit of a lovely stroll through the water and talk about, oh, hysterectomies or plasma fusion lasers. Whatever the topic of gossip it takes a while and a lot of hand gestures and the swimming slows to a treading of water.
Sometimes they simply halt at the edge of the pool, possibly stretching out a dandling foot or two to splash a little but mostly, well, there isn’t another word for it, they are lolling.
There is no way around them. I’ve tried. You get a smile, a twinkly pink smile and a creasing of the sparkly eyes and no movement out of your way whatever. At times like these I have been known to simply swim in a circle at the deep end until the entire history of Jean’s ovaries is recounted in precise medical detail. Poolside, consultant surgeons are taking notes.
I don’t have anything against these ladies. If anything I admire them and their golden confidence. They have balls, quite hairy and sizeable ones gleaned no doubt from their husbands who are probably thwacking their way around the course at Cumberwell Park Golf Club.
In the Art of War Sun Tzu suggests an army of grandmothers to fool the enemy. I suggest an army of grandmothers to trounce them. These ladies don’t care about a stupid sign giving instructions, they know exactly who they are and how they got there. They paid tax, they own this pool. They know themselves very well. They have the right hair and the right swimsuit. They’re lovely.
I’m never going to be that. I’m not like that now. I don’t tweeze my eyebrows or, most days, brush my hair. Pink is my least favourite colour and my footwear is generally heavy duty, made for tromping about. My head is rarely tilted into the hairdressers washbasin, instead it is tilted upwards looking for buzzards.
There is another old lady who I sometimes encounter when I am Nordic Poling it up the Kennet and Avon towpath. She wears cords, soft and baggy and above them she wears a man’s shirt and over that an anorak. The anorak is a teal colour with a rather worn fake fur trim around the hood and reminds me of one I had in 1974. This old lady is wiry and small and she rides her bike along the canal at a speed that can only be described as ‘pell-mell’. She rattles along with her basket loaded with shopping or logs she has recently felled from the woodland. Her hair is brown and unruly or possibly a squirrel. If you don’t scoot she will run you over, I don’t think the brakes are that great on her bike, or, more likely, she does not care to use them.
Some days, as her bell prings out its dire warning across the Kennet and Avon I wonder if she isn’t a vision, a glimmer of my possible future, old yes, but wild and freewheeling.
I’ve been growing things. Huge triffids of things are trailing out across the garden. Only yesterday I had to untangle my husband from a tendril or ten,his bicycle bent out of shape, a leaf casting a vast prickling shadow over his frightened Welsh face. Only some of his clothing was saved.
I’ve tried growing things before and I appear to have green fingers when it comes to squash and courgette family type vegetables. There is nothing creamier and more delicious than your own freshly snipped courgette. Do stop sniggering at the back. I love the vast yellow flowers and the umbrella leaves. There is also a magical quality to the speed with which these plants grow. Each morning I emerge into the garden and find that another forest of pumpkin type leaves has sprung up overnight. They sprawl, they cascade.
And I am reminded of a holiday in France where we stayed at a small cottage next door to the owner’s house. Every morning they greeted us with a fresh crop of courgettes and at that point in time I was the only family member who enjoyed eating them. The doorbell would ring and the paternal Roger the Breton would be outside with a broad Gallic smile and some more courgettes.
I fried them. I baked them. I chopped. Sliced. Slivered. Each morning’s delivery also required me to step out in the garden for a few moments with Roger the Breton to discuss the progress of his potatoes and the beauty of his hydrangeas in my Francais Pigeon. He tested me, Roger the Breton, enjoying my linguistic struggles but also being patient and helpful ‘You should hear me speak Breton.’ he quipped with a wry smile.
The couple, his wife Loulou, regarded us with a kindly affection, the young (it was a while ago!) family who had come to nestle for a time beneath their wings. My children loved their poodley french dog Sisou and we were introduced to their grandson. During one conversation my husband informed them that he was a twelve year old submariner and complemented them on the glass of Jus de pomme de terre we had been offered. They exchanged a look and I said in French of course, ‘He’s Welsh’ which was marginally less confusing than being an underage naval officer. If anything they were slightly too attentive. It was often trying after a tiring day of looking around abandoned cod trawlers in the docks at Lorient, to return and have to conduct a stilted and inaccurate conversation between Roger the Breton and Stephen the Galle. Oh, and of course there were more courgettes.
There were tears when we left, probably of mirth at my archaic French farewell but Loulou wrote to us later to let us know how they were getting on and to tell me of Roger the Breton’s recent operation for piles, a word I had to look up in my huge French dictionary.
We had other holidays in France with our kids, including one that involved Puy du Fou, the French equivalent of…well I don’t know. It is, as Moulin Rouge might have it, Spectacular Spectacular a theme park with an historical bent including a colosseum and fighting gladiators and the raising of a Viking ship from a lake. This year they are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Did I mention the eagles? The musketeers? The medieval village? I don’t do it justice here, just google it and go there. Allons-y!
The French are, of course, different from us in mood. If we think they can be a bit arsey I am quite sure we can be too stuffy and stuck up. They have a better outlook on food and leisure and life in general. I marvelled at Roger the Breton’s beautiful garden because it was a mess, nothing sculpted or arranged, it was a wild farm of potatoes and pumpkins with some massive blowsy Hortensia looming at the edges like lace on a tablecloth. The French it seems to me, take time about small things, the details are important.
Thinking about those holidays has made me nostalgic, for the times when our kids were smaller and could be piled into the car for any amount of adventure. They could be dragged up Snowdon or offered the chance to jump in a lake.
More than that, it makes me very uncertain about the future and our impending Brexit. I don’t understand it, I can’t pretend that I do.
I just think about Roger the Breton emerging from his workshop beneath the trailing passionflower, his smiley sun weathered face, his black beret and his overalls, the same softened blue coverups that were worn at all times by my own grandfather in his workshop in Little Hulton , alright, I grant you not as sunkissed but, nevertheless, complete with black felt beret.
Vive. There is no difference.