Me and my hair have known each other for 31 years now. We have really only got on for about six of those. We have had an incredibly turbulent relationship, my hair and I. Both of us never listen to each other. Both of us think the other is wrong. Both of us are so stubborn that we never see the possibility of change. It used to be such a loveless marriage.
Here are some of the hairstyles I have had since birth.
: No hair.
: Toddler hair.
: Side parting.
: Shoulder length hair/centre parting.
: Spiky/messy hybrid.
Every time I have wished to change my style, or just try something new, it has consisted of me standing in my bathroom, gel and comb in hand, muttering away to my hair like the Horse Whisperer as I try and tease something different out of my unruly mop.
‘Come on, come on, work for me here baby,’ I would say gently, as I approached my hair slowly with the gel. If you go in too fast and startle my hair, it can normally freak out and hide behind my ears in wild waves.
‘That's it,’ I’d say, with a small note of triumph in my voice as I managed to slowly sculpt it into something appropriating what I wanted, ‘You’re doing great.’
Finally I would finish, and with a grand flourish, check myself out in the mirror. That is normally when my best laid plans would flounder and whatever new creation I had inflicted on my poor head would come crashing around my, frankly rather startled, ears. Bits of hair would suddenly pop up as if spring loaded, what I wanted to stay up, would come down. It would look like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards, and then beaten round the head severely with two baseball bats.
‘Nooooooooooooooo!’ would be the pain filled cry that emanated from my bathroom at moments like these, as my hair collapsed spectacularly like a poorly made souffle.
I think my school days were the lowest ebb in mine and my hairs relationship. That is when we were barely even on speaking terms. Children, being as cruel as any living creature on earth, would look for any chinks on your armour for exploitation and ridicule, so the passing phase of any new hairstyle that everyone would be undertaking normally left me with massive feelings of dread. Would my hair let me down? Would everyone point and laugh?
When you are a kid, you don’t really care what you look like. When you hit your early teens, you care what everybody thinks you look like. Girls first, your peers second. So any trip to the hairdressers for a new cut would normally resemble being on death row, taking that long walk to old sparky, which would normally be cunningly disguised as a hairdressers chair. So with sweaty palms and a hammering heart, you would sit down whilst mentally giving your head the last rites, and await the possible horrendous outcome.
I remember once when I was about 14, I decided to change from my normal spiky style to a more cropped, short one, as it was what most people were wearing during that time. I went to my normal place of butchery, Toni’s, which was run by an aging Italian man who was not called Toni, but Brian.
‘Ello winkle!’ He would cry every time I entered his shop. I had no idea why he called me winkle. He didn’t call anyone else winkle. I didn’t know whether to be proud of this or take offence.
‘What are we doing for you today then winkle?’ Brian said, placing the towel around the back of my neck.
‘I’d like it cropped please,’ I squeaked back, feeling the sweat forming on my forehead. ‘Not too much off the top please.’
‘We’re gonna make you look like a ladykiller!’ Brian cried, giving me a slap round the back of the head. He also did this a lot to me as well, but never to anyone else. Once again this always used to puzzle me.
So Brian set about my head with his clippers with the grace of an Australian outback man, sheering a lamb. My gently teased spikes that I had cultivated for the last few years suddenly vanished, giving me a subtle impression of what my new hairstyle would look like.
“Not bad,” I thought. It kind of suited me. This could actually be the first haircut I truly liked.
And my heart soared, it really did. I had images in my head of all the great things me and my new haircut would do together. All the great house parties we would no doubt get invited to. All the women that would inevitably end up falling at our feet due to the sheer awesomeness of our new cropped style. All the slow mutterings of ‘Ohhhhhhhhh’ as we went back to school on Monday and everyone saw how amazing we looked. I looked back at myself in the mirror and I believe I actually smiled.
And then that smile faded as Brian kept cutting, and cutting, and cutting…………….
The man was like a machine, a machine with no obvious “off” switch. He hummed to himself as more and more of my hair fell to the floor? Why wasn’t he stopping? Was there something wrong with him? Oh my god, my head looked like a testicle!
Finally he finished. With a grand flourish, he whipped off my towel and produced a mirror, which he paraded round the back of my head so I could survey the damage that he had done.
‘What do you think winkle?’ He said.
What did I think? What did I think??? My head was bald! Well, not fully bald. There was a tiny scuzz of brown hair still clinging with faint hope to the top of my head. But with the sun streaming through the shop window, I did look bald. I also looked like a registered sex offender.
I thought about all those parties I would be barred from. I thought about all those girls falling at my feet through laughter. I thought about the slow mutterings of ‘What the f**k is wrong with his head?’ that all my school would be whispering at me as I passed. I thought of all of this and said in a high pitched voice
‘It looks great Brian, thanks.’
When what I felt like saying was ‘What have you done to me? I'm a MONSTER!!!’ and smashing all the mirrors in his shop so I didn’t have to look at myself. But I didn’t. I just paid him, and even gave him a large tip.
That walk home was the worst I have ever taken. I have one of those faces that if I am not talking, relaxes into an expression that resembles I am on the verge of killing someone. Its not my fault, it just goes that way. I even get complete strangers coming up to me and telling me to ‘Cheer up, it’s not that bad’, even when I’m in a perfectly happy mood. So couple my new haircut with my normal expression, I looked like a freshly released and very dangerous sex offender. Mothers dragged their children across the road to avoid me. Dogs would take one look at my head and run off whimpering. Little old ladies would slam their front doors in sheer terror at my passing.
It took me quite a few years to get over that. Even to this day I still get anxious in barbershops. But me and my hair have formed an uneasy alliance. We no longer fight each other, but try to live in harmony. No more will I inflict on it unreasonable styles that I know it doesn't like. In turn, it no longer lets me down when I need it most. We look at each other every morning, not in hate, but grudging respect. Hell, sometimes it can even make me laugh in the morning with some of the crazy bed hair shapes it pulls off. But when the comb and gel come out, we both know what we have to do, and go about it with a new found admiration for each other. I know my hair will never win any awards, but I also know that when push comes to shove, and I need it to be on its game, it won’t make me look like Christopher Lloyd either.