PART ONE – PREP
It’s that time again and I’m not ruddy happy about it.
I thought I’d been doing so well at cutting my own hair since that strict Polish girl gave me a five minute regimental, but Mum says I need at least three inches off to even look vaguely presentable.
If she wasn’t getting married this week I might huff and ask her quite why I need to be presentable at all. Firstly, I have a boyfriend who is morally obliged to think I look alright even when I’m at my worst, and secondly, let’s be honest, ‘being a writer’ sounds glamorous if you picture clean-shorn Alain de Botton bashing out his latest deep shit on a brand new iMac in a Bauhaus loft, or even Dame Barbara Cartland (is she still alive?) sitting at home with a blue-rinse arrangement that doubles up as a quill pot and luxury dog hotel, but it’s hardly the kind of life that calls for emergency salon visits to take off the first tremblings of a split end, is it? Most of us are a right ruddy state, and I’m not even a ‘proper one’. I still work part-time in a bookshop, and you’re not allowed good hair in those. (It might even be in my contract to look this bad.)
I don’t think Mum’s really trusted me with hair since I cut off all my sister’s to make a downy bed for a bird’s nest circa 1985. Perhaps I had a presentiment then as a five year old that I would be rubbish at cutting my own hair; maybe that’s why I cut my sister’s off instead.
Anyway. My hair is a mop and I suspect no two strands are the same length, so I am getting it cut for her, today.
Mum is at that bridey stressy stage that I never understand because in the eyes of wedding planners I’m an abhorrence of nature. I don’t care about any of it. I think, to me, marriage is like Gibraltar – been there once briefly, don’t remember much about it apart from the odd monkey, and wouldn’t really care if it didn’t exist. There is no way of expressing that sentiment to people in the middle of counting out a job-lot of sugared almonds into voile baglets for strangers. They will pity you.
I suppose pre-nuptial fretters worry about the small details of a wedding because small things are easier to worry about than the magnitudes. Flowers can be chosen, plucked, cut, arranged. You can’t do that with the future. And that’s really what weddings are about, isn’t it? The future. Yes, also about love and expressing that love and making an outward statement of commitment to that love, but also (and I think, mainly, because I’m a hoot) about saying “I can’t picture my future without you, because…I can’t picture the future at all, actually, because…when I do I think of dying, and I don’t want to do that…alone.”
Naturally with all this jolly shit going on in my head I am dead fun at weddings. I will sit there nursing the table wine, thinking all this cheery stuff. And then, when the booze has kicked in like a bad tribute band, I will take off my shoes and run around on the dancefloor with the children. I am that woman. In ten years time that will have to stop because I will just look like a barren nutter who gatecrashes weddings to get her primal scream out to Agadoo with a hyperactive tot named Horatio, but for now I’m just about young enough to carry it off with some semblance of dignity. (And dignity is as relative as you wish it to be, I’ve found.)
In short, I’m getting my hair cut, and I’m not happy about it.
But my mum’s getting married, and I am happy about that.
And that’s why I’m paying a stranger £30 or thereabouts plus tip to look at me with disappointment in their eyes while I channel my existential anxiety into my follicles; Love.
PART TWO – THE WEDDING DAY
“By the way, you’re doing my hair.”
“Yeah. Jean’s at the venue doing the flowers so I need you to do my hair now.”
It was then that I knew my mother had gone quite mad. Wedding nerves had stripped her of her final strand of sanity; she was teetering on the precipice of mania.
I’d just arrived at her hotel room. Mum plonked herself down in a chair and waited for me to start. I stared at this beautiful lunatic in her underwear and felt that surreal intimate distance you can only feel with the person whose lady parts you once came out of. “I came from you.” I thought, as I stared at her face, a face addled with thoughts of the day’s romance and hope for the future. “You have no future”, I thought. “Not once I’ve finished with you. Literally no one will talk to you anymore. You’ll be done in this town and all towns. You’ll be forced to seek refuge in towns populated solely by people with hair equally as bad as or worse than yours.”
I stopped my dramatic inner narrative and thought instead, perhaps more helpfully, of all the hair skills I knew. There was that thing that some folk do whereby they pull a multi-pronged handled device through one end of their dead shafts to the other. Brushing, I think they call it. I could try that.
I stared at what lay before me. My mother’s head. Unknowable as the vast surface of a strange new planet. This forbidding terrain suddenly not Ma’s, but…well, Mars. I did the only thing I could think of. I necked some booze and got stuck in. Perhaps it was Blitz spirit, but better, because I’m pretty sure they didn’t have champagne in the air raids.
Three glasses and a lot of asking her to keep her head still later I had somehow (and I know not how) managed to fashion something that was vaguely reminiscent of a bridal up-do. I had exhausted an arsenal of grips, and emptied an apocalypse-whipping sized canister of firm-hold hairspray. I like to think God summoned himself into existence for a bit, just long enough to accompany me through the nail-biting travails of a novice hair primper, before vanishing back into the kind of annoying inaction that keeps Richard Dawkins in quality socks.
Once done, I watched that hair like Kevin Costner watched Whitney Houston at the concert where she almost gets killed in The Bodyguard. With an almost creepy robotic dedication, and a bit of sweating.
Intent on keeping my eyes on the back of her head at all times, I was relieved that the ceremony was the traditional kind where the congregation stares almost solely at the back of the bride’s head. It was almost too convenient. The only thing that threatened to thwart my Terminator-like focus on the coiffured bonce of my mater was the bit of crying with happiness I did at my mother’s happiness – at how wonderful it was to see her giddy like a little girl, at how vulnerable people seem up close when you get to really look at them, at the memory of all the times my mum had done my hair over the years – but all that was quickly controlled. I wondered if I might be channelling the overwhelming feelings of love into the much more manageable diversionary task of ‘wispy bit control’, but commanded myself to save my psychological insights for later, when I’d had more to drink.
I watched the hair. That hair was lovely. That hair was up, on that head, with fortification. That hair and I had been through a lot. That hair needed me. I needed that hair. I would have died to protect that hair.
Not that I would have needed to. The hairspray could have withstood ten atomic bombs and then some.