Thursday, February 08, 2007

Short Hair Days...

On the coldest day of the year so far I find myself with the shortest haircut I have had since I was in my early 20s. I have been going to the same hairdresser for four years and have had broadly the same haircut in all that time. Short, but never too short. I like my hairdresser. She knows my profession and we have wordlessly developed a LETS scheme: she tells me her problems and I get a wet cut for a fiver, which is ridiculously cheap even by arse-end-of-Yorkshire standards. I visited yesterday. She launched into a long and complex tale involving her frail, elderly mother, a curling rug, A&E, the officious Duty Social Worker and the Kafkaesque hoops one must jump through in order to qualify for a modicum of social care. I was in my ex-trouble-making-social-worker element. I gave her a lengthy piece of advice on how to ensure that her mother gets some actual support, which involved citing the National Assistance Act (1948), the Disabled Person’s Act (1980) and the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act (1995): advice designed to make any social work team leader sigh in despair that here is someone who appears to know that she might actually be entitled to something.

This was swiftly followed by “D, what the hell are you doing to my hair?”

“Oh,” she said, “you don’t normally have it that short do you?”

I don’t. I haven’t worn my hair this short since I was a radical young thing in the early 90s, wearing old-style DMs, charity shop clothes and with cheekbones to die for.

I left feeling that I had held up my side of the bargain rather better than usual, but that she had left me looking like a tired extra from Bad Girls. I went to bed feeling very grumpy indeed.

This morning, however, I have had a wave of nostalgia for my Short Hair Days. I had my first short haircut at university, where I hung around with the Women’s Group (or Wimmin’s Group, as we preferred. Oh, Lordy!) The Women’s Group consisted largely of women with names like sheepdogs (Rax, Joo, Kez etc) who looked like they had been sheep-sheared by the farmer. We thought we were sooo cool. I quickly took to cutting my hair myself, and thought I looked quite the radical. The Mother despaired. Job well done, then.

I moved to Stoke Newington after I graduated, way before Stokey had been gentrified and when the Vortex Jazz Bar was the best night out in London. I worked in Camden and would catch the North London Line to Camden Rd: on a haircut day I would queue with the boys at the little Turkish barbers and get a short back and sides for £2.50. I have always been fond of a cheap haircut. A slick of brylcreem and then the bus up Camden Rd to work. Matt Lucas was often on the same bus, and I vaguely recognised him from the TV. He always sat in the disabled seats at the front and would look embarrassed if anyone smiled at him. He looked shy. I liked him for it. My boyfriend at the time had long hair and looked like Feargal Sharkey. We looked quite the couple.

I looked like a boy for years, and I liked my androgyny. But now I am a middle-aged women, a stone heavier and with more than a smattering of grey (which, in a man would look ‘distinguished’ but in a woman looks like she can’t be bothered to dye it. The Wimmin’s Group failed in that respect.) I have wrinkles, which I really can’t call laughter lines because I just don’t laugh that much. I am not sure if women my age can really carry off the Very Short Hair look. I think it makes me look hard, not sexily androgynous. So I will grow it out to its normal level of shortness. But I would like to thank D for the memories.

23 comments:

nmj said...

I guess psychotherapists are every hairdresser's fantasy customer! All that listening between all that snipping . . . short hair is best, it is just easy beyond belief, but if yours is anything like mine it only stays short for a few weeks and feels like it's down to my feet again, I would love to be able to cut my own, I am scared to say how much a decent cut costs here (edinburgh), it is quite scandalous.

swimmer6foot4 said...

I guess from what you've written (most evocatively) you have told your hairdresser of your profession. In my case, in the very first lecture, on the very first day, of the very first course of training ... I received the best advice I could have got from my lecturer (an experienced therapist/counsellor). She said that, when asked what she did, she always told people in non-therapy and social settings that she worked at the check-out counter for the food section of Marks & Sparks. (She claimed that she spent so much money there, she knew the entire range of stock and hence, appeared convincing.) Admittedly there were issues of congruency but at least she totally avoided getting cornered by the "Oh! In that case I wonder if you could help me with this ..." brigade.

My local Turkish barber (yes, in Stoke Newington) charges five pounds but friends have been known to pop around to me afterwards for remedial work (another string to my bow).

Personally, I've avoid hairdressers like the plague; since my regular stylist died 11 years ago next week :-( My hair is longer now than it ever was in the 60s. My SO keeps nagging me to cut it all off and have short hair. Your blog entry has got me thinking ...

N.B. You wrote: "I confess to having some suspicion about someone who uses his fame and 'celebrity' status to estoll the Taoist view that fame and celebrity are shallow substitutes for genuine self-actualisation. It seems rather paradoxical to me. A bit like Oliver James, in fact, who I shall certainly blog about in the not too distant future." You have whetted my appetite!

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi nmj - on my therapy training course one of our training cohort was a hairdresser. She said that she had spent the best part of 10 years listening to people's problems, and felt she might as well get paid for it. She went on, by the way, to get a PhD in neuro-linguistics, so clearly wasn't exactly your typical hairdresser (no disrespect meant to hairdressers, by the way.) I think it will be a while before this particular haircut feels like it's down to my feet, though.

Mr Swimmer - I do like the idea of saying that I work in M&S. In fact sometimes, I like the idea of actually working in M&S! You remind me of the time I was in hospital having given birth to my son. I was in an inner city hospital in Manchester, and each morning saw a queue of young women at the nurses' station for their methadone prescription. I was chatting to one of these young women over breakfast. She was telling me that this was her fourth child, that the other three were in care and that social workers had placed an Emergency Protection Order on her new born and would be removing it to care the next day. It was a heart-rending story. Then she asked me what my job was. I was a social worker at the time. I told her I worked at Sainsbury's. Didn't really want to get caught up in that one.

I will blog about Oliver James' new book, but I feel the least I can do is to read it first. I actually quite like Oliver James, but he does have a knack of courting publicity and going for the 'fame and controversiality' ticket, I think. He talks a lot in interviews about needing to impress his father. I wonder if there is a link?

That's so pants said...

Hairdressers always want to cut your hair short. I'm growing mine again because I have a moon face and just don't like having short hair.

Ms Melancholy said...

Perhaps they feel they haven't done their job, if they haven't cut at least an inch off it? I think D just gets carried away with the conversation and forgets what she's doing. I think I shall stop talking to her. Perhaps next time I will take a good book.

Caroline said...

Is your hair coloured a funky colour? I'm hoping that it's pink.
I've never had short hair. I can't cope when it goes above my shoulder. My hair is my security and I can hide within it. Yip. Read into that one,
I admire short hair on women. It speaks of confidence, but it's so cold at the moment. Perhaps a hat is the solution?

x

Ms Melancholy said...

No funky colours I'm afraid Caroline, although I do get The Husband to put highlights in using one of those home kit things. That's very trusting of me, isn't it?

Hannah's Pet Hamster said...

OH MY GOD!

Was there really a Kez in your Wimmin's Group? I'm sure I knew her.

I was flirting around the rad fem scene in York in 1987 and 1988, and although you must have been there a little later, I bet some of the same people were still around.

Then again, maybe she was called Kiz... hmmm.

One of them had a broomstick above her bed and claimed to be a genuine witch. Can't remember which one. Might have been Kiz / Kez.

Did you know Dev, or her ex Rachael (whose surname I have infuriatingly forgotten)? Or Debs, who was a comic actress and lived with a clown? Or Julia Reissmann?

(This is Clare, btw. I'm just using a silly name for the day... don't ask).

Hannah's Pet Hamster said...

I used to have a skinhead, btw. When I stop working in an office, I may well resurrect it. For old time's sake. I loved my skinhead.

There's a picture on my site somewhere... hang on... nah. Can't find it. Ah well.

bobo said...

Suddenly I feel so connected: a youth spent in Stoke Newington flat sharing with a bloke who's now a New Labour MP, and now a life in darkest Yorkshire. What sort of progression is that?

I so wish I'd gone out with wimmin with sheep dog names. Instead I found myself going out with women who'd reduced themselves to letters of the alphabet: Bee, Cee and Dee (though sadly not in that order - thus once again proving that the universe isn't as funny as it coul be).

I have to say, as a middle aged man with graying hair, it isn't "distinguished". It's just gray. And I don't have the flambouyance to dye it something shocking, and point blank refuse to buy middle aged men hair dyes because I'm in denial and it seems such a lot of faff anyway. So I'm awaiting to become silver haired - now that would be cool. But in the meantime I keep my hair bog-brush bristle short, which I fancy makes me look a bit hard, but actually only gets me symapthetic glances from balding men.

Of course, I know pine for the Feargal Sharkey long locks of my youth, though I probably affected more the style of a fair-haired Neal from the Young Ones. Ho Hum.

Ms Melancholy said...

Well Clare, (or Ms Hamster, as I shall now call you!) - I was waiting for the third coincidence and we have just found it! I knew Kiz very well. She did indeed define herself as a witch, complete with broomstick above her bed and altar in the corner of her bedsit. She was also a compulsive liar, I later discovered, so heaven only knows how much of her Wicca-ness was true. I was at York 1986-89 so if we met maybe we would recognise each other. How wierd is that? I knew a Rachael, only vaguely, who called herself 'Rax'. Was Dev very small and in the RCP? Isn't it a verysmall world??!

Mr Bobo, nice to see you here. I am most amused at the thought of you going out with Bee, Cee and Dee, even if they weren't necessarily in that order.

Earthpal said...

Hi MsM. I really enjoyed reading this.

I have always had long or medium length hair and I think it stems from a childhood hang-up/issue type thing.

My dad took me and my sister to the hairdresser when I was about five or six years old and he had our hair cut extremely short. 'Twas because of a lingering head-lice problem that went way past parent tolerence levels (I've no shame). But for ages afterwards, my school friends would really make fun of me because of my G.I. type haircut and it was mortifying! Never again!

When I go to the hairdresser now, I really prefer it if the stylist doesn't chat away to me. I love having my head and hair messed with and chatting obligations are just not conducive to this form of relaxation. Hope this doesn't mean I'm an anti-social so-and-so.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi Earthpal, thanks for the comment. You may be on to something here. I think the reason I have my hair short is because it was always long as a child and my mother used to line us girls up every morning and drag a brush through it, cursing that our hair was a damned nuisance. But she wouldn't let me have it cut short. Go figure.

Ms Melancholy said...

Thank god that my mother is computer illiterate and won't ever read this blog!

Boris said...

Derr, what did you expect. You gave her much more advice than usual, so in return she cut much more hair than usual. Seems perfectly fair to me

Boris

Hannah's Pet Hamster said...

Hahaha!

Small world indeed.

Dev was indeed very small, but not in the RCP - I don't think. She was quite close to the SWP though.

Hannah's Pet Hamster said...

Kiz was awful btw. Compulsive liar and all sorts besides.

Ms Melancholy said...

Boris - very funny! You are allowed to visit again...

Clare - yep, that's the same Kiz. Wierd behaviour, compulsive liar, very good at getting her own way and becoming hysterical if she didn't. Sounds like you might have had a brush with her too?? I think I have pictured Dev - very small and blonde? wonder what they are all up to now?

JustJude said...

Reading your's and Clare's reminiscences is bringing it all back to me. I wasn't at York between '86 and '89, but I was at Durham. I envied the girls with the short spiky hair - many of them my friends. But at the time was torn between that and being a hippy.

The hippy thing won, due to the fact that my wild curly hair fitted well with the look. In fact for years everyone assumed I had a mad perm during those years. In fact I started straightening it when I got a proper job and only stopped doing it on a daily basis about 2 years ago.

And yes, when I stopped, everyone assumed I had had a wild perm...

Still, I did possess several pairs of doc martens and shopped in second hand shops for men's suits as well as tie dyed flowing skirts. Bit of split personality disorder going on maybe?

Ms Melancholy said...

I was a bit of a hippy too, Jude,in a new wave kind of a way. I miss dressing like a student - no ironing, not much washing and cheap second-hand tat. Couldn't pull it off now, unfortunately.

swimmer6foot4 said...

Well! Ms Melancholy. You have certainly induced some melancholy into my life today. As a child I was shorn - on a fortnightly basis - at a barber's shop in Broadway, spitting distance from what is now York University. The hairdresser's technique was so crude that we didn't call him the Broadway Barber but the Broadway Butcher. Looking back, I now realise he must have detested children; for example, he would re-position us by pressing his long finger-nails deep into the side of our heads.

Maybe that's why I hate hairdressers so much. I wondered if there was term for "hairdresser phobia" and couldn't find one. However, the fear does not appear to be that obscure (I found that there were over 30,000 entries when I did a Google search). So, until someone comes up with something better I shall call it coiffeuphobia, pronounced: kwä-fûr' fō'bē-ə.

Ah! now that feels better!

Clare said...

Yes, Dev was very small and blonde and spiky and wore big DM boots and trilbies and those kinds of cotas men used to wear in fifties detective films and she was terribly cute and I was desperately despreately in love with her. She's in my book (The Dying Of Delight), actually - I think I called her Dev in the book, too - although I changed the physical description. In the book, she's the one who came up with the five rules of life. They were all genuine rules which Dev herself told me when I was 17.

And no, it wasn't me who had a run-in with Kiz, but I saw her from afar and didn't like the look of her and had a couple of close friends who had run-ins with her...

Dev is now living in Hull with her girlf and doing various bits and bobs - we swap the occasional letter / Christmas card.

Ms Melancholy said...

God Clare, this is all a bit strange. I really liked that bit in 'The Dying of Delight' and now I find I knew the woman who inspired it. You did well to steer clear of Kiz. She totally fucked my head up...