At the hairdresser

I should have known better than to go for a haircut on a Tuesday. That’s the day when the experienced coiffeurs, exhausted from their Sunday and Monday off, leave the salon almost entirely in the incapable hands of their trainees.

It started as it always does, just inside the door, with the standard, raised-eyebrow look that said, “What can I do for you, Sir?” To which I replied, “I’d like a baguette and four croissants.”

That’s nonsense, of course. I was well aware that this was a hairdressing salon, not a bakery. But – short of being deluded – there was also absolutely no doubt about why I should have entered those particular premises. Which is why there was absolutely no reason to pose that unspoken question. So each time I go to the hairdresser, I think about making an unexpected request. Like baguette and croissants. Or three pints of lager and a packet of ready salted. Or the Sunday paper without the supplement. Partly because I hate having to state the obvious. Which, of course, I ended up doing anyway.

“I’d like my hair cut, please.”

Not surprisingly on this ill-fated weekday, my life – or at least my head – was placed at the mercy of a trainee, a girl so patently inexperienced that I’m sure she’d only graduated from cutting her grandmother’s fringe a few days previously. Sure, she wore the regulation black that is the obligatory uniform of the hairdressing profession, but I was pretty certain I caught a whiff of old-person smell clinging as doggedly to her fingers as some of the elderly cling to life.

Even before she had so much as touched me, we laid down some the ground rules at her request. Given the season, I declined her kind offer to halve the length of my hair. And, strange as it may seem, when I said I wanted her to cut off only the annoying, outward-twirling ends, that’s precisely what I wanted: the annoying, outward-twirling ends only. And thanks, but no thanks, I did not want her to use clippers. Scissors are for hair, clippers for hedges.

With that she set about her work.

The shampooing went well enough, I guess. Although short of scalding the customer there’s not much even the most inept of stylists can get wrong. I would therefore say she did a passable job considering this was undoubtedly one of her first attempts with someone unrelated to her. She even managed not to get too much of the water down the back of my shirt.

From the sink we fast-forward to the scene of the pièce de la résistance: the standard-issue black swivel chair facing the mirror, where, having removed the towel from my head, she placed what appeared to be a floor mat around my neck. Even though I suspected it probably wasn’t fresh out of the front of her Renault Twingo, it certainly weighed about as much, thus requiring me to exert considerable force to resist its gravity-induced groundward push lest I crumple together in a flattened heap on the lino before my personal follicle fashioner had completed her ministrations.

She now quizzed me anew on how long I wanted my hair to remain, the middle and index fingers of her left hand clamped over a lock of my greying mane to act as the measuring guide. Her first offer, involving both fingers resting on my scalp, I rejected outright since I wasn’t considering a career in the army for the time being. However, thus thwarted in her second attempt to rid me of my natural head covering, she offered not a slightly less shorn alternative but applied the all-or-nothing approach so common among hairdressers and cheese-mongers alike, running her fingers right up to the very tips, leaving the barest of millimetres protruding for excision.

Lacking the energy to point out that there was a huge vista of several inches between her two proposals, I agreed to the latter, safe in the knowledge that I could always ask her to remove a bit more once she was done.

Now, finally, she started cutting, though with such excruciatingly breath-taking lack of speed that I could have drunk several cups of coffee between each snip. Even so, I didn’t say anything because judging by the way she screwed up her eyes this was already taking all her concentration.

“Snip … snip … snip …” went the scissors. And then slower still: “Snip ……….. snip …………… snip ………”

Almost two mind-numbing hours later she was done. And of course the ends I had asked her to remove had been joined by much of the rest of their follicular brethren. Though fortunately for me, I was still just short of a Number 4.

“Would you like me to put anything in your hair?” she asked, having omitted entirely to blow-dry it. Some wax, I replied. “Wax?!” she asked, as if this were a wholly novel concept. “Not gel?” No, I said. Wax would be just fine.

Locating a tub of a wax-like substance on one of her colleagues’ tables, she scooped up a suspiciously yellow blob that could well have come from someone’s ear and mushed up what was left of my hair until I resembled nothing so much as a damp, short-spined hedgehog.

“Is that OK?” she enquired, vaguely waving a handheld mirror around behind my head in a manner that utterly prevented me seeing the back of my bonce. No, I said, it wasn’t. But before I could fully explain how I actually wore my hair, she cut me off mid-sentence with the words “Doesn’t matter. You can do it how you like it yourself.”

So when I got home, that’s precisely what I did.


  1. is this a true story? two hours for a haircut is crazy.

  2. Two-ish, let's say, give or take a pinch of poetic licence. Mind you, I've definitely had a three-hour cut that was far worse in both outcome and ordeal.


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