Hair Becomes The Bride

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.
(And pressure.)

PART TWO – THE WEDDING DAY

“By the way, you’re doing my hair.”
I froze.
“What?”
“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.

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The Hero Down The Hall

“AW! REMEMBER WHEN YOU HAD NITS? YOUR HEAD STANK!” was the way I was greeted by a family friend last week. I’d already had “Remember when ‘uncle’ Clive bit your bum?” (Er, yes. Yes I do. EVERY NIGHT AS I WANDER THE DARK ABYSS OF THE SOUL.) and “I’m getting ruddy sick of seeing your face in the paper” (Thanks. Well…be thankful it’s not my bum, I guess.), so a loving reminder of my pre-pubescent scalp infestation was a nice distraction. (Sometimes I actually yearn for the yanking of that tiny comb.)

My mother, not usually one for such unnecessary displays, decided to have a birthday. She stuffed a Portuguese restaurant so full of her nearest and dearest that I spent the first hour or so utterly overwhelmed and not knowing who to talk to. I even felt that thing that surprises me from time to time; shyness.

Then I saw my lovely cousins Michael and Sammy, laughing at the end of the long table. I scooched down to sit with them, and even though I rarely see them, felt instantly comfortable. We still had the same playful ease that comes from having been kids together.

We were all born in East London. My family moved when I was three to Leicester, and Michael and Sammy, and their brother Sean and sister Emma, all stayed and grew up there. They were like gods to me. They were everything I wanted to become, but I could never quite catch up.

Michael came to live with us in Leicester for a bit when I was little and became like a brother; the proudly flatulent hero down the hall. I would run to his room, throw myself like a bed tobogganist onto his belly and make him terrify me with tales of ‘Monsters and Demons’. I’d wriggle and scream but never once actually want to escape. He’d sing me ‘Ding dong bell, Pussy’s in the well. Who put her in? Little Johnny Flynn.” with a knowing malevolence that delighted me. (Songs about drowning cats were what I lived for back there in the formative jungle of ’85.)

My cousins joked about what I might be like now if I’d stayed in Hackney. We decided I would probably be a self-appointed warden of a notorious tower block, a well-meaning but potty-mouthed avenger of knife crime or something. Michael and Sammy laughed, but I could actually picture my Alsatian. His name was Atticus and he wore a patch. I probably would have got shot in the face for talking to my plants and died hanging out of my tenth storey window with my wet bedsheets flapping in the smog. (Or been a reasonably-priced prostitute upon whose boobs you could have a good cry and then I’d give you a biscuit.)

I often wonder, actually, what my life might have been like, in Hackney, in Leicester – if things had somehow wandered their way into being…different.

But being there at the party with my cousins, drinking beer and laughing, and seeing my mum warmly watching over at us like her many homes had aligned, our current circumstances sort of didn’t matter. We almost weren’t who we are, but who we were together, before life beckoned us away.

I’ve never really thought about how my cousins shaped who I am. Sometimes we don’t pause to credit people, do we? But they were where I started. They were the steps ahead; could read, write, play out, drink hot tea, swear, all before I could. Heroes.

And Michael taught me to love stories. It’s what my life rotates around now – dreaming and writing and playing in stories. And when someone has given you that, they’ll always be in your life, whether you see them often or not.

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Learning To Love Women, & Other Belated Tales

Some twitter-thoughts I surprised myself with on International Women’s Day…

I ping between anger and sadness when women joke (ineffectively) about being Essex girls, mistakenly thinking they are showing people we are liberated and fun.

I think one of the things that riles me is the women making these jokes are utterly unequipped with the irony to carry it off as an actual comment about real women.

They clutch for a ‘LOL’ like it makes them ironic. “Oh, silly me, I’ve got a cock in my mouth again. Typical little slutty me, of Essex.” NO. STOP IT.

YOU AREN’T DOING IT WELL ENOUGH TO DO US ANY GOOD. IRONY IS AN ART AND IF YOU GET IT WRONG YOU CAN DO FURTHER DAMAGE OR AT LEAST LIMIT CHANGE.

I look at heels and think “why?”, as often as I look at heels and think “I wish I was sassier and wore heels.”

Sometimes lipstick makes me feel strong and open. Sometimes it makes me feel weak and exposed.

I feel a bit sad every time I have a period and I look down and think what might have been.

I feel FUCKING RELIEVED every time I have a period and crap myself about what might have been.

I had an abortion and I’m so happy I had the choice, the chance – and know that I should be able to say it here or anywhere, minus all irrelevant personal specifics, without shame.

I worry I am so busy trying to do other stuff that I might not figure out if I want to be a mum in time to be a mum.

I sometimes worry that if I don’t decide to become a mum, I will mother the entire fucking world.

Where does all that ‘motherly’ shit inside go if you don’t have kids? Will you be properly happy channelling it into other things, other people?

I feel guilty for not valuing women more when I was in my teens & twenties. I think learning to value & love women is one of the most important things I have ever done.

You can never really feel alone or despairing when you have good women in your life.

The only loves in my life whom I know without doubt will still be as constant in my heart when I die as today, are women.

Sometimes, so busy in missing my father, I am not as thankful as I should be to my mum.

I used to think being declamatory about anything female was ugly and unnecessary. I now step up its importance a little every day.

Being a woman gets better the more you are proud of all the things that make us different.

Being a woman is as wonderful as you let it.

For the first 30 years of my life I felt safe if a man was in the room. Now I feel a greater, more natural peace with just my gals.

Try EVERYTHING you want to try, and some things you don’t. It’s how you will be able to trust who you are later.

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