I don’t get my hair cut all that often. In fact, it’s possible that governments change more frequently than I have to start thinking up conversational gambits to have with my hairdresser. It’s moved on so much from ‘where are you going on your holidays?’ (I’m not) whilst covering of such topics as chosen football team allegiance, or the sort of music I’m into at the moment, only have two answers left, and you’re left in no doubt whatsoever that there is a right and a wrong answer, and the likelihood is that whatever answer you provide, it’ll be the wrong one. To take the pressure off, I tend to play verbal tennis, and ask them all the questions. This comes with its own set of challenges, as you have to think up slightly less obvious inquires: it’s not like you can ask them what they do for a living, and furthermore, you then have to flag up an interest in whatever they’re telling you, as I found over the course of two years as my hairdresser informed me with great bitterness and even greater detail the mechanics and outcome of his ongoing divorce. As he became increasingly agitated and angry, I became increasingly aware of his bladework.
When I was a child, my haircut cost one pound. A single pound. Which folded. Nowadays, that wouldn’t buy you a decent shampoo. I used to regularly lose the money, which I only realised after having the haircut. An hour or so used to pass before I realised that I’d hidden it in my sock. Again. Because I used to lose my money all the time.
Now haircuts can cost up to £35, or more. Paying that much so that somebody can take something off me has always jarred, so I usually go to a barbers rather than a salon. There’s a quite exclusive one near me, and the prices mean I’ve only ever been there twice, and both times only because I had free vouchers (oh, I’m a real catch, me).The first time I went into this other world (and it is another world, smelling of lemongrass and tea tree oil, and staffed exclusively by nineteen year olds who’ve all managed that curious expression that suggests they’re always having a great time, but that they’re constantly pissed off about it).
I was a stranger in a strange land. I wasn’t used to being told the content and country of origin of the product being washed into my hair, I wasn’t used to being presented with a menu of complimentary drinks (coffee? tea? wine? Wine, for the love of Toni and Guy?) and I certainly wasn’t used to being offered a head massage. I got overly self aware and felt that I’d wandered into a dimly lit establishment where you’re coyly offered certain ‘extras’. So I politely declined, despite the fact that I’ve had more headaches than I’ve had hot dinners. And, yes, I’m fully aware that if I had more hot dinners, I’d have less headaches. This time round, it seems that I haven’t been the only interloper to get all new male and Guardian reader over the offer of female contact, and so they’ve changed the wording – rather than offer you the service, they tell you that they’re going to do it. However, if the intention really was to de-sexualise the whole affair, they should probably have gone for a better phrase than ‘and now, Sir, I’m going to finish you off with a head massage.’
I can never have my hair cut too short since doing so makes me look somewhat ill, to the extent that people are clearly wondering how long I’ve got left, but on the other hand, I’m really not stylish enough to manage hair longer than that of a three hour old baby. I attempt to go for the unkempt and just got out of bed look, but never have the time, since I’ve invariably just gotten out of bed. The conversational gambit problem is less of a issue in a salon, since, as indicated, they spend a lot of time telling you what they’re using and why they’re using it, but your reactions still have to be measured: I kept my eyes open throughout the wash and massage, panicking that I might look like I was enjoying the process ‘too much’, whereas to her, I clearly looked like I was worried that she might steal my wallet. I don’t anticipate being relaxed enough for another cut for about eleven years.