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The Living Haircut by Sabrina S and Sean O'Hare

David Clipperborough cleared his throat, and adjusted for the hundredth time the tiny microphone attached to his lapel. Fortunately the legions of mobile phone users who were now using "personal hands free" earpieces and mikes made Clipperborough look like just one of the crowd, chatting away to a colleague on his lapel mike.

Nobody would have guessed he was in the process of making a documentary that would rocket him to stardom in households all over the western world. His delicate foray into the hitherto private world of these rare species was being captured surreptitiously by the smallest professional video cameras available.

Clipperborough stood casually near the statue of Lady Godiva, her long hair cast in brass forever, covering her breasts and flowing down her back. He looked like any other tourist posing for his mate with the camcorder, except that it was nearly November and he was wearing a safari suit and bush hat.

"Welcome," said Clipperborough, "to The Living Haircut." He paused, waiting for the camera to pan out and show the crowd walking behind the statue, heads of hair all different lengths and colours. As an opening sentence, it said all he wanted to say. The studio-mixed visuals - hair flowing past in the crowd, long hair being woven into plaits and updos in a swish hairdressing salon, a child getting a bowl cut from her mother, a ponytail being nipped off at the nape and finally a beautiful long head of female hair being clipped to near extinction in a barber's shop - would say everything else his words didn't.

The Director, Sean, made a "cut" motion with his hands. The word "cut" always brought a wry smile to Clipperborough's lived-in face.

"Great," Sean enthused. "David, the research team has found a bevy of ponytails for you over near the fountain."

"Rare ones?" Clipperborough salivated, fingering the scissors in his left pocket and cordless clippers in his right.

"One appears to be. Longus plaitinus, according to the research guys. The others are fairly common - shoulderlengthus apparently."

"Longus plaitinus," sighed Clipperborough ecstatically. "Let's go!" He trotted off, leaving the cameraman heaving his outdoor bag onto his shoulders and hastily checking film.

Clipperborough and the team hid in the shrubbery several yards away from the fountain and observed the hair shining in the sun. Clipperborough was delighted - the beautiful glossy auburn ponytail was the best example of longus plaitinus he'd seen in ages, reaching over the back of the park bench and swinging below the seat itself. It was attached to the head of a girl in school uniform. "Run film," he advised the team. "And I'll VO."

Taking a deep breath, so his voice didn't betray the excitement he was feeling, Clipperborough began to speak. "Here is a fine example of longus plaitinus. Just look at the shine! Rare ponytails like this should be preserved at all costs. Left in the wild, as it is, it's likely to suffer from diseases like split ends, or be subject to horrific chemical damage from perms and streaks. We're lucky to have found this one. It's attached to a young teenage girl, so we can presume damage to date has been minimal. There is only one thing we can do here in the interests of conservation of this rare species. And that's to cut it off and preserve it."

The camera panned out to show Clipperborough, sweating slightly despite the cool day, taking the long bladed scissors from his pockets and assessing his target.

The girl sat with five others. They were giggling over a magazine, their attention totally taken.

Silently Clipperborough edged towards them; to the edge of the shrubbery, then a fast dash across the shaven turf to the fountain. He crept around the fountain until he was behind the exquisite longus plaitinus. He was aware his ragged breathing was being picked up by the lapel mike, but didn't care. His attention was totally focussed on the ravishing ponytail.

He knelt behind the girls, who hadn't noticed him. They were absorbed in a pop group who, Clipperborough saw from the photo, all sported dreadful haircuts.

Silently Clipperborough brought the scissors to the girl's nape. It would have to be quick, and painless. He would have to get away before the gaggle of girls turned on him.

"One, two," he muttered under his breath, " and THREE!" Swiftly he closed the blades around the rope of thick red hair, aware that the cameras had moved closer and would be zooming in on the action for all they were worth.

CRRRRRRUUUNNNNNNNCCCCCCHHHHHH!

The girl stiffened, but Clipperborough was strong and quick. Again and again he closed the blades around the ponytail. CCCCCRRRUNNNNCHHH! CRRRRUNNNCCCHHHH! The harsh, incredible sound of scissors ploughing through dry hair almost made Clipperborough reel in ecstasy, but with one more mighty CRUNNNNNCHH! the ponytail was freed, and lying heavily in his hands.

Clipperborough jumped to his feet and ran for his life.

Behind him, the girl felt her newly-bared nape with one hand and let out a piercing scream. "My hair! That PERVERT took my hair!" She burst into noisy sobs. Her friends comforted her. One of them gave chase to Clipperborough, who was galloping with the ponytail held above his head like a trophy.

"Run!" howled Sean, seeing the other schoolgirls jump to their feet too.

"You have to be careful," gasped Clipperborough into his lapel mike as he sprinted, "that the human to whom the hair was attached doesn't take offence. It's hard to tell people that a haircut is for their own good and for the good of their hair."

"Cut!" yelled Sean from over his shoulder. The cameraman, quivering at the sight of six furious schoolgirls screaming and advancing like a horde of pony-tailed Amazons, gratefully hit the stop button and bolted for all he was worth. Clipperborough raced past him, grabbing one of the handles of the outdoor bag. Together the two of them hauled the gear at high speed to the waiting Land Rover.

Sabrina, the chief researcher, gunned the motor. "Hurry up!" she urged, dragging Clipperborough into the front seat and waiting until Sean and the cameraman had thrown themselves haphazardly in the back, the cameraman holding his gear above his head. She put her foot down and pushed the car straight out into traffic, ignoring the screeching brakes and tooting horns of outraged motorists. The screaming schoolgirls pounded on the Land Rover's doors and windows, but it was too late. They'd escaped with their trophy.

"That was close!" Clipperborough wiped the sweat from his brow. "What's next?" He stroked the ponytail, taking a rubber band from the glove box and securing the top so the tight plait didn't unravel.

Sabrina pushed a hand through her short blonde hair. "We've identified a salon a couple of miles away doing half price haircuts this week. Lots of action, but most of it is mundane. Trims, you know. It may be good for fill-in visual. I've had one of the team go to a mall and identify women who appear to still suffer from the increasingly rare Washenwear Perm, and prepare a rescue plan."

"Great," said Sean. "I'll ring them and see how they're going."

Clipperborough rubbed his hands in glee. The Washenwear Perm had taken off with a vengeance in the late 70s and early 80s, causing untold damage to healthy hair and immense damage to people's looks. Everyone from career women to footballers had suffered from it. There were still examples to be found, sadly. Clipperborough longed to eradicate every example of the hideous plague still found on earth, but knew the reality was he'd probably only get to shear away one or two examples. Still, showing the awful nature of the Washenwear Perm on national TV might convince people suffering from it to do something about it.

Sean was chatting away on his mobile phone and Clipperborough came back to earth to hear the final part of the conversation. "Great Ralph! You've identified fifteen prime examples! They'll need to be tranquillised before the operation of course. You've already offered them a glass or two of wine! Excellent! And you've found a salon in the mall that will act as our wild hair rescue centre. That's terrific! Yeah, David'll want to perform at least one operation, but we can get the stylists there to do the rest. Imagine, every chair in the salon filled and every woman getting her perm cut off at the same time. It'll make for great TV!"

"Yippee!" howled Sabrina, making a heedless U-turn across traffic and heading for the mall.

Clipperborough closed his eyes in pleasure, visualising fifteen heads being shorn in unison of the insidious Washenwear Perm.

The cameraman phoned the second camera unit; he had to make sure they had enough film and lights and boom mikes to get the full sound of fifteen clippers in action. This was the opportunity of a lifetime!

As Clipperborough approached the salon his pulse quickened. Through the glass front he identified a veritable gaggle of women of varying ages, but all severely afflicted by the sad plague. He nearly recoiled in horror. But, being the total professional, and reminding himself of his mission, he entered the rescue centre.

"G'day mate." He was approached by a bearded guy with a strange accent. "I'm Ralph Hairies. I'm the researcher who has been observing the examinations of these unfortunate creatures and preparations for their operations. The wine has made them much more approachable."

"Thank you, Ralph." The camera took in the whole scene, and then panned to each head in turn and the enormity of Clipperborough's mission became apparent. In hushed tones he looked back over his shoulder at the camera, and spoke in hushed tones. "Never have I witnessed such a gathering. The Washenwear normally affects only a few people in any group, and is sometimes eradicated by social pressures. However here we see the true danger wrought on the population by the 70s and 80s, and the real possibility that the plague could resume without warning, fuelled by unscrupulous stylists just out to line their own pockets with the spoils of selling the serums and conditioning treatments which offer temporary respite from the dryness wrought by their actions. However there is only one cure." A wry smile appeared on Clipperborough's face.

"Too right, cobber! One of the Sheilas exhibiting the worst symptoms is already sufficiently sedated and she's been prepared for her operation." Clipperborough and Hairies approached the gaggle who parted to reveal a caped individual seated nervously in front of a mirror. An efficient looking white-coated stylist approached pushing a small trolley on which were arranged the instruments to perform the operation. Clipperborough's face lit up as he spied the large set of clippers.

"I have often said that we shouldn't interfere with nature. It is often a difficult decision, but if suitable tools are available to perform an effective cure then I feel we have no choice but to assist in the eradication programme. Now, you'll soon feel much better my dear. Head down please." As he picked up the clippers and selected a small plastic attachment, the rest of the unfortunates were led to their own chairs and prepared.

"So what are you using to effect this cure, David?" Ralph peered over, looking interested but characteristically asking daft questions, given that Clipperborough held a set of powerful Wahl clippers in his hand.

"A Number 2 guard. It is the only way where a secondary growth has taken hold." A loud buzzing filled the salon and, without pause, he drove the clippers up the victim's nape and sighed as large clumps of dry, steely curls bounced to the floor. Again and again the clippers performed their task and finally the victim was cured and left with a quarter-inch buzz cut. "Most satisfying," he exclaimed with a wide grin appearing on his face.

"And is this a permanent cure, David?"

"Not necessarily Ralph," he replied condescendingly. "Symptoms will not reappear for at least three months but there remains a risk that the condition could flare up if the victim meets another human with the same condition... or passes a certain class of salon, particularly those with net curtains."

"Really..."

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! Ralph was interrupted by 14 sets of clippers starting up in unison as the risk of re-infection was severely reduced.

Clipperborough slowly lowered the clippers to his side and absently turned them off, his mouth unprofessionally agape as his eyes moved from chair to chair, watching artificially curled hair slide down the shiny capes and onto the floor in tangled clumps. The tranquillised women, many of them still sipping the strong glasses of Australian Chardonnay, sat smiling for the most part, watching as the eradication of Washenwear Perm took place, and their heads were shorn of the awful menace. One or two appeared distressed as their locks were reduced, but were instantly fed more tranquillisers.

The cameramen took in the whole scene, and smiles appeared on the faces of the entire team.

"Lookit that one wiv the really long curls," whispered the first cameraman to the boom operator, watching an attractive young lady become even more attractive as the damaged Washenwear Perm was clipped off with long strokes.

The boom operator's hands were shaking he was so stunned by the angry growl of fourteen clippers echoing off the minimalist white walls, and the sight of hair falling heavier than rain in the Lake District.

"Flippin' 'eck," the boom operator whispered back. "There must be twenty inches of it."

Then Sean's phone rang. "I don't believe it! But I thought they were extinct in this area? Where? OK we'll be right there." Sean appeared perplexed. "Er, David, I suspect this is case of mis-identification but another of our researchers by the lake in the park has spotted what appears to be... well, there's no easy way of saying this... he thinks he's seen a Mullet!"

The jaws of the whole team dropped. Sabrina's face went ghostly white. She never expected this. Clipperborough looked pityingly towards her. "I know, I know, Sabrina, but sometimes we have to be brave in this job and put our personal fears aside. You'll be fine."

There was a pause and she took a deep breath. "OK, what are we waiting for guys? Let's go fishing for a Mullet!"

Sabrina drove the Land Rover mechanically, her heart thumping. Out of all the wild creatures that she'd encountered during her years researching for Clipperborough, the Mullet terrified her the most, with its spiky top and horrid rat-tails. She was so nervous she drove through three red lights and Sean spent the last five minutes of the journey with his hands over his eyes. Ralph tried to cheer everyone up by singing 'Tie Me Ponytail Down, Sport' until the cameraman hit him and almost knocked his thick glasses from his nose.

The scene by the lake looked innocent; sunshine sparkled on the water and three children and a dog were playing football. A couple groped each other under a blanket.

Sabrina heaved a sigh of relief. It was all a mistake!

But then Clipperborough, with his eagle eyes, hissed, "There it is!"

They all squinted to where a tall figure clad in a bomber jacket and jeans stood under a tree, smoking a cigarette. Even from a distance the shape of the head was clear: the buzzed top and straggly, ominous tails reaching halfway down the bomber jacket.

"Erk," muttered Sabrina, clutching her gold scissor charm for luck.

"We'll need to plan this carefully," advised Clipperborough. "Ralph, do you have a beer or two in your hold-all?"

"Mate, Aussies always have a beer or two dozen in their hold-all," Ralph replied cheerfully, unzipping his bag to reveal two six packs of Fosters Lager.

"Right," decided Clipperborough. "Ralph, you take one of these six packs and offer the Mullet a beer. Get him to sit down if you can, and have a drink with you. Mullets can usually only handle one thing at a time, and with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other he'll be powerless. I'll remove the rat-tails before he knows what hit him."

Ralph trotted over to the tree and the team watched as he offered the Mullet a beer. Warily the Mullet sat on the grass, and the cameraman, Sean and Clipperborough made a wide arc and approached from behind. Sabrina, gnawing at the skin around her fingernails, watched from a distance, ready to run to the Land Rover and have it waiting for a quick escape.

"Roll film," ordered Sean.

Clipperborough faced the lens. "The Mullet is almost an anachronism in this day and age. Hirsutely, it's a dinosaur. Note the short, spiky top and sides, and the long back. This dates back to 80s rock stars, country and western singers and American gridiron players. Mullets are often the target of derision and this makes them aggressive creatures. Coincidentally the Mullet and a low IQ often, but not always, go together. This Mullet appears to be a prime example. Note how he looks from hand to hand to decide whether to put the beer or the cigarette in his mouth. We can greatly improve this Mullet's chance of survival with a quick turn of the clippers. In this case interfering with nature will enhance this Mullet's prospect of a happy life within society. He may end up with a job, or a girlfriend. Watch carefully," Clipperborough whispered, and crept towards his prey.

Clipperborough's cordless clippers were the most powerful and quiet available. They made a gentle humming noise when he flicked them on, and the Mullet didn't even react to the sound, merely believing it was an insect.

Ralph kept the Mullet engaged in conversation as Clipperborough moved in close. He could hear what the two were saying.

"So who DO you follow in the football then?" asked Ralph.

The Mullet looked confused. "Duh... what was the question again?."

Easy as taking sweets from a baby, thought Clipperborough, and dug the clippers into the Mullet's overlong, straggly tails. Firstly he swept the clippers sideways across the Mullet's neck, so the rat-tails dropped to the ground, then swiftly pushed them up the Mullet's nape and head, shearing off the remaining hair to a half inch crew cut so it matched the short, spiky hair at the front and sides. With five lightning fast passes of the clippers, the Mullet was shorn.

"What was that?" said the ex-Mullet vaguely, swatting at his head as Clipperborough silently backed away, the cordless clippers switched off and back in his pocket.

"Just a fly," Ralph said soothingly, draining the last of his beer. "Gotta go, nice chatting to you, mate."

Nonchalantly Ralph and Clipperborough strolled back to the Land Rover, meeting up with the rest of the team. Sean ordered the cameras rolling when he saw an attractive girl with a short red crop approach the ex-Mullet and begin to chat to him. Within a minute her fingers were stroking his hair adoringly. It was clear the ex-Mullet now had a happy life in front of him. They watched as the girl and ex-Mullet walked off hand in hand.

"That's a satisfactory rescue," Clipperborough said warmly to the camera.

"Phew," sighed Sabrina. "I was worried there for a moment. David, you do take some awful risks."

"I'm going to take some more," Clipperborough decided. "I'm all fired up now. The day's still young and I'm sure there's lots of quarry about. Who'd like to join me in hunting for Napes? "

They all looked at each other and smiled and Sabrina yelled, "Everyone back in the Land Rover. Let's go to the Italian Quarter for lunch."

As Sabrina pulled in and parked haphazardly in a side road in the Italianesque area known as Little Napels, they all jumped out and headed into the central courtyard area - the Covered Garden. The weather was warm for early spring and they sat outside Claudia's, a small restaurant in the shade of the Covered Garden with a panoramic view of the complete square.

It was all they had hoped for. They saw napes everywhere. Sabrina was captivated by the variety of colours and said rather dreamily, "Hmmm, you can understand why people say 'See Napels and Dye'."

And then the waitress came towards them. The team marvelled at her precise, textured, cropped crown as she handed them the menus.

"May I get you an aperitif," she trilled, like a songbird.

"Er, yeah. Hairneckin all round please sheila," Ralph demanded.

"I'm sorry, I... ah, Heineken beers! Yes, of course"

All mouths dropped as she walked away allowing them to admire the nape free of hair. Indeed the whole back of the neck was clipped. almost up to the crown, with the textured layers barely reaching her ears. Clipperborough couldn't resist. He cleared his throat. Sean quickly said "Roll VT" as the waitress walked away.

The familiar hushed voice could be heard once more. "Here we see a perfect example of a Clippered Napebird in full spring plumage. We can admire that white silky nape, the drab winter covering having been moulted. The plumed crown, the golden streaks catching the sunlight through those glossy blonde layers, the attractive uncovered ears."

"And of course in this area we are surrounded by many related species of the Napebird. Evolution has allowed many variations. Looking over there we see several examples of the Bobbed Napebird. A smooth cap finishing at the back of the head with the remainder of the nape smoothly clippered. And look, there's a rare Flattopped Napebird - the head almost bald, apart from a thin covering on top giving an a sharp appearance. Very striking. Marvellous, absolutely marvellous."

Sean's gaze was distracted from his work by the appearance of what appeared to be some sort of mutant bird. Exhibiting all the outward characteristics of a Napebird and mixing freely with others, her silky smooth hair had grown way past her shoulders, showing a distinct reluctance to moult. Sean was both horrified but at the same time intrigued. She perched at the next table and ordered a drink from another waitress in a soft French accent - showing her to be of the continental sub-species and smiled coyly at him. Sean reluctantly returned to the task in hand.

Clipperborough continued. "Why is this area so good for napes? Well it is one of the wonders of evolution that the Napebirds flock here, and salons have appeared to service their precise needs. Or were the salons here first? Perhaps we shall never know."

"Cut!" called Sean, at which point the waitress looked back over her shoulder and smiled at the team. Several hearts melted under the hawk-like gaze. She disappeared into the restaurant to get their beers, and the team's eyes returned to their table to find Sean missing. Although he was not far away.

He recognised, despite the incorrect plumage, the mating signals from the next table and now perched there also, uttering his courtship call in pidgin-French while she cooed back in return. Even the arrival of his cool lager did not distract him. He was a master of this game. He ruffled her mutant mane, so out of place in the Covered Garden. He traced a line with his index finger around her head just above the ears, nodding towards the departed waitress. They both smiled, and she nodded slowly.

"G'day sheila. Sean can you tell me what you are doing?" Ralph was standing between the two, looking from one to the other with his habitually perplexed look across his face. "I think we would all be interested in knowing." She looked up startled at the looming figure, and appeared ready to take flight.

"Piss off Ralph, I think everyone else knows precisely what's going on," Sean hissed. "You nearly scared her off."

"Well I only asked mate," he returned to his chair singing tunelessly to himself. "Tie her ponytail back sport, cut her ponytail off...." Ralph was never one to take offence about being in the way.

Sean's hand disappeared under the smooth covering, examining her nape. She smiled once again. Her eyes half-closed, perhaps imagining how it might feel to be normal.

"I don't really approve of us interfering with the natural way of things," said Clipperborough with a somewhat prudish air. "Evolution will allow such mutants to die out in time, although it may be that France will continue to be populated by strange species. It has always been the way. But it will be an interesting experiment to see how she reacts."

Sean got up, and his latest victim did likewise. He placed a guiding arm about her shoulders, almost recoiling at the touch of her lengthy plumage on his bare arm. There was now little chance of escape from her entrapment as they flew towards the edge of the square and Sean directed her up the steps of the first establishment he could find to effect her cure. A traditional barbershop.

The rest of the team approached the large glass window and peered in through the assortment of plants that surrounded that surrounded it. Clipperborough push the fronds aside for a better look and, even without Sean's direction the team knew what to do. The camera rolled and the commentary started.

"This unfortunate Napebird who appears to have a genetic disorder that appears to prevent her moulting in the spring was trapped by the team. This is something we try to avoid, but we could not allow an innocent creature to suffer for the rest of her life. The entrapment scenes were quite disturbing and will not be aired to avoid upsetting those of a nervous disposition. We now see her prepared for the operation that will allow her to rejoin the resident flock. Her body is covered and we see her head pushed forward as the barber takes his scissors and efficiently removes the unmoulted mane. Yes! The nape is now visible but more work still needs. The clippers, silent through the glass, devour the remnants as they slide up her nape allowing her true beauty to be exposed. Oh, this is such a beautiful sight viewers, I...." The camera picked up a glistening tear of emotion on Clipperborough's cheek as he was overcome by the scene before him.

As the operation was completed a mirror was held up to allow her to view her nape and the look on her face was enough to convince them all they had done the right thing. She would feel at home displaying herself in the streets of Little Napels with others of her kind and hoping to attract a mate.

Sean pulled out his wallet, paid the barber her appearance fee and hopped down the steps of the shop with a satisfied smile on his face.

Sabrina suddenly shouted out. "Hey guys, it's nearly 2 o'clock. We've got to meet the trophy hunters from the SHE Country Club. They have been stalking a golden-maned girl called Elsa and should now have her in their studio." The "before" pictures posted on the internet came to the mind of each of them, and they could visualise how she would end up at the hands of the couple who ran the club. Although each felt varying degrees of guilt over this barbaric practice in this so-called civilised world they knew they had to document a complete picture of the environment.

"I don't really approve of trophy hunting, particularly with captive...."

"David!"

"Yes Sean?"

"Shut up, and let's all get back to the Land Rover. Ready Sabrina?"

Sabrina navigated the Land Rover from the tangle of Little Napels through the High Street jungle, and into the wilds. Nervously the team watched as the familiar urban sprawl gave way to green fields, hedgerows and woods. Who knew what might be lurking in there? Mullet territory, thought Sabrina, and put her foot down. They reached the Country Club in less than an hour and unfolded themselves from the vehicle with tired sighs.

The crew set up the camera and boom outside the Country Club, and Clipperborough filmed an introduction.

"Out here in the wild," he began, indicating the wooded green hills behind him, "many creatures live in conditions those of us in the city can't begin to imagine. Victims of home haircuts and village salons, they suffer from bad styling, perms and incorrectly applied streaks. They're known by the name of Ruralus, which indicates the country lifestyle and habitation they originated from. Our hosts at the SHE Country Club have managed to capture a fine example of this type of creature, who goes by the name of Elsa. Elsa is very shy, and it has taken SHE Country Club staff over a month to tempt her into the Clubhouse. It has been a slow process, feeding Elsa tidbits from magazines, haircut videos and the internet. Our thanks go to the Management, who have kindly allowed us to use their facilities to perform the necessary operation to give Elsa a new lease of life. Ordinarily such operations would be performed by the managers themselves, and we're honoured to be given the use of such a dedicated operating theatre for ourselves. Let's go and meet Elsa."

The team were greeted at the clubhouse door by the management, and led down corridors featuring photos of short-haired and bald models on the walls. They almost lost Ralph in the process as he insisted on looking carefully at each picture.

"Look at this one," Ralph said, taking his glasses off to get a closer look. "She's gone from waist length to a buzz."

"Come ON, Ralph!" hissed Sabrina, dragging him by the arm. "We don't want Elsa to bolt!"

Elsa stood timidly in the corner of the elegant white operating theatre. She was a tall, slim girl with a waist-length tangled mane of golden, brassy and white blonde hair, and peered shyly at them from under an overlong fringe.

Clipperborough smiled encouragingly at her, and took in his surroundings. A smart black salon chair, a range of capes to choose from, and an even bigger selection of clippers, combs and scissors. Most professional, he thought with satisfaction. It wasn't often he got such great facilities in the wilderness.

"Come on, Elsa," Clipperborough said gently, holding out a hand and approaching her.

The cameras rolled as Clipperborough led Elsa, on trembling legs, to the chair. "Would you like to tell us about yourself?" he offered.

Elsa said in a quiet voice, "I've had long hair all me life. I get a trim once every six months and I've had streaks for the past five years." She tried to rake her fingers through her hair but they caught on knots.

Clipperborough faced the camera. "If you look closely, you can see Elsa's hair is damaged with split ends from the very tips all the way up above her shoulder. It's a disease that can only be cured by cutting off the offending hair. Also her streaks are very inexpertly applied."

"I do 'em meself," Elsa broke in, "putting bleach on a comb and combin' me hair wiv it."

"Tragic," sighed Clipperborough, shaking his head. "You can see that Elsa has a severe regrowth problem as a result of these hideous actions, with the streaks visible at uneven intervals. Overall, the damage is immense. It's a trait of Ruralus to administer home haircare like this. Unfortunately it will probably take several generations' worth of breeding and education to change this behaviour." He turned to Elsa. "Elsa, you do realise we'll have to cut all this hair off, don't you?"

Elsa nodded, tears forming in her eyes. "Just do it and get it over wiv," she whispered, her voice breaking into a sob.

Clipperborough nodded to Sabrina, who patted Elsa's shoulder kindly and fastened a baby pink cape around her neck. Sabrina lifted the heavy weight of hair out from under the cape.

"It's vital that Elsa gets a fresh start," Clipperborough stated, "to enable her new growth to be healthy. What the SHE Country Club would usually do in this case is clip her hair off to no longer than a quarter of an inch long, and we agree with this advice. In order to saw through this mess, I'm going to use the big Oster clippers." He reached over to the bench and picked them up.

Elsa's knees were knocking under her cape.

When Clipperborough flicked the black Osters into life, the resulting hum sounded like a horde of angry bees had swarmed into the salon. He regarded the captive animal, and then lifted up her long fringe with his left hand. Then he nuzzled the blades at her forehead and pushed them back into her hair. The Osters howled for mercy, revving over Elsa's head and leaving a soft, short honey blonde pelt in their wake.

Sean let out an unprofessional whistle before he could help himself. The sight of Elsa with a strip of hair nibbled off down the middle of her head, and the rampant growth left on either side, was amazing. He couldn't wait to see the rest of it get clipped away; and he didn't have to.

Clipperborough knew that performing operations such as this required speed, so the poor creature didn't have to suffer for longer than necessary. Again and again he swiftly dragged the clippers through her locks, and the cape and floor was soon covered in a blanket of hair. Elsa's sides were buzzed to reveal neat little ears that lay flat to her head.

Clipperborough pushed her head forward and the cameraman moved behind him to home in on the action. Clipperborough lifted up the long hair into a loose ponytail and dove the clippers into the girl's nape, baring it tantalisingly. With five long strokes the bulk of the operation was complete, and Elsa's mane lay on the floor. Clipperborough then carefully clipped over her head to ensure the cut was even. Elsa's face was excruciatingly pretty with no long hair to hide it; her golden eyes were huge as they caught sight of her new look in the mirror for the first time.

"Wow," Elsa breathed, running her hands over her hair, "It's all one colour an' all! And don't it feel nice, too! Just like velvet!"

"We'll make sure Elsa looks after that mane of hers in the future," Clipperborough said into the lens, dusting tiny hairs from his safari suit. "We'll be giving her quality shampoos and conditioners to use to make sure damage doesn't reoccur, as well as several Toni and Guy salon vouchers for professional haircuts from now on. The species Ruralus CAN be rehabilitated. It's important that we remember that, and don't regard them with scorn when we see them." Clipperborough held his professional smile in place until Sean said, "Cut!"

"But you've already cut it," said Elsa, pointing to the hillock of hair on the floor.

"Ruralus," muttered Sabrina under her breath as she went to find a broom. "Is only one step removed from the Mullet in intelligence."

Ralph opened the door. "Did I miss the haircut?"

"And Ralph is only one step removed from Ruralus," Sabrina finished, shaking her head as Ralph sauntered into the operating theatre singing "Two little girls had two little curls, each had a hot roller set."

Elsa was sent back into the wilderness armed with bottles of hair products. The team watched her canter off happily in search of the local bus. Clipperborough sniffed back a tear. "It's always so rewarding to set them free like that." He blew his nose. "What's next, Chief Researcher?"

"We have a choice, David." Sabrina consulted her clipboard. "I've been on the mobile phone. The research team back in town on the High Street have discovered an entire flock of Lesser Fringed Fashion Birds."

Clipperborough let out an uncharacteristic whoop.

"Or..." Sabrina continued, "In the absence of finding a good example of Asymmetricus, the team have found volunteers willing to undergo the operation for the cameras."

"What a decision," groaned Clipperborough. Brightly dressed Fashion Birds with their minimalist fringes or the exquisite sight of an asymmetrical haircut in progress. What WAS he to do?

"I think the Fashion Birds can wait for a while. They are a beautiful sight, but their plumage allows them to be tracked down relatively easily. But examples of Asymmetricus are so rare, due to their chameleon-like properties."

"What do you mean David?"

"Well, viewed from the side, that girl over there with the chin length bob may well have the other side of her hair cropped short. Who would know. Similarly any crop-haired girl may be disguising the other side of her head with longer hair. It is just so difficult to spot them. Footage of such a transformation would certainly be a valuable addition to the programme."

So they went back to the town and found the salon earmarked for the transformation. She sat, looking cool, in the chair wearing an immaculate, symmetrical bob. As they arrived a young woman, called Trudy, picked up a set of clippers and without further ado drove them up the side of the woman's head reducing her hair on that side to a fine pelt. She continued until the whole side was cropped short and then proceeded to graduate the back, the sides and the crown - fashioning a style which, from that side, appeared to be a perfect crop. Moving from side to side the audience was captivated by the chameleon-like nature of her appearance. She could now easily blend into a group of conservative business people. Or even joining the flock of Fashion Birds. A remarkable transformation.

The team was pleased with the footage of this event. Although one of their number seemed somewhat perplexed. Nothing unusual in that. After all, it was Ralph. The cameras continued to roll. Ralph was talking to a woman who had entered the salon in a somewhat dishevelled state. Alongside her was a younger woman with rather lank, shoulder-length hair of a nondescript colour. The older woman was explaining, somewhat tearfully "I didn't know what to do. I tried to put my hair up as usual - I have a very important company function this evening - but it just wouldn't stay up. I've used loads of hair hairspray but the wisps still keep falling down around my face. I feel terrible."

"Don't worry, the staff here are wonderful," Ralph said cheerfully. "They'll soon sort you out."

Ralph turned to the camera smiling, and Sean shouted "Cut!"

"Oh Sean, I thought we could film this. A rescue of an updo. I wanted to watch."

"But Ralph, it's not a haircut is it," Sean said tolerantly. "OK, you watch and the rest of us will wait outside and have a ciggie."

So the team trudged outside and lit up. Well, all but one. Clipperborough tried to explain "smoking isn't very good for the environment - or hair for that matter - you really should all...."

"Shut up David," the team cried in unison.

After a short while, Ralph was seen to walk out of the salon with an uncharacteristic frown on his face. Sean muttered "roll VT," keen to catch the moment.

Ralph spoke directly to the camera. "As you know Tina arrived a little earlier, with an updo that was a bit crook. The stylists were wonderful inside as they attempted to rescue it. They used all their skills but everything was against them. What appeared to be only a slight problem, turned out to be inoperable. I'm afraid I have to report that the updo couldn't be saved. Despite the use of vast quantities of gel, even more hairspray and assorted ironmongery the hair still fell down and her style died. Very distressing."

Sabrina sniggered "DIS-tressing!" A glance from Sean quietened her. And was that a tear in the corner of his eye? Ralph's innocent manner could tug at the heartstrings of even the tough director.

"But, there is some good news." Ralph's face brightened. The younger woman skipped out of the salon. Her lank locks had been cropped short, and coloured bright red. She had been transformed into a Fashion Bird, like a phoenix arising from the ash blonde. "This is Nellie, sporting a lovely red crop. You have to admit she now looks like a real Yorkshire terror."

The team applauded as Sean once again shouted, "Cut! OK, Sabrina where to now?"

"Well, have you heard about the research that has gone into the strange parasitic creature that has been infecting the high streets in this area?" Clipperborough shook his head.

Sean said, "Are you talking about vampires? I heard there was a jynx...."

Sabrina replied impatiently. "No, no, no. It's a plastic device which attaches itself to longer-haired females and causes their hair to plume upwards at the back. A very strange sight indeed. It has reached almost epidemic proportions in some areas and despite attempts to neutralise the problem, the only current solution appears to be surgical removal. It particularly seems to affect the Common Essex Bird. Look, there's one! Let's go and speak to the female to see if we can help."

The team peered at the direction into which Sabrina was pointing. They saw a young woman in a micro skirt with a hideously coloured nylon top clinging to her body. Her hair, which appeared to be a badly cut Rachel, was bunched up at the back in one of the offending plastic parasite clips. Her feet, however, appeared to be shod in elegant boots which Sabrina identified as Russell & Bromley's latest. It was bemusing; the cheap clothes and expensive shoes.

"Well spotted, Sabrina," cried Clipperborough. "That's not just any Essex Bird, it's a Common Essex Bird in the process of transformation. Common Essex Birds occasionally migrate to this part of town and are able, with a lot of assistance, to transform into Fashion Birds. Let's see if we can help with the transformation."

"How do you spot a Common Essex Bird, David?" panted Ralph, trotting at Clipperborough's side, his short legs going two to Clipperborough's one.

"The haircut is usually a giveaway for starters," Clipperborough replied. "Essex Birds tend to follow fashion in their own way, buying the cheapest High Street copies of expensive clothes, and trying to achieve the latest hairstyles. Unfortunately they often go to less than capable stylists, and the hairstyles fall short, if you'll pardon the pun, of the original. For instance, this example has got what appears to be a Rachel, but she's chosen to bleach it platinum. Tsk, tsk. These unfortunate creatures never quite get it right. But I'm sure we can help in this case. Sean?"

Sean was an able translator for many species. The team watched as Sean spoke to the Essex Bird and forcibly removed the parasite from her head. He made a face as he held it at arm's length between the tips of his fingers and threw it in the nearest bin. The Essex Bird's bleached locks stayed in the upright position for several moments before sinking to her shoulders.

"Criminal," sighed Clipperborough. "Poor thing, let's see if we can help."

Up close, the Essex Bird wore heavy makeup with bright blue eyeliner and mascara, and a long fringe which almost obscured her eyes. Sabrina estimated she was in the early stages of transformation, and had started with her feet. The urge to help was strong. Sabrina thought she had enough in the research budget to provide a total transformation for the unfortunate creature, and decided that while the hair transformation was taking place she'd go shopping for some stylish plumage. This segment could be a total makeover, and Clipperborough nodded in agreement.

"Just don't go overboard at Harvey Nicks," he warned. "We still have several days' shooting left."

Meanwhile Sean ushered the nervous Essex Bird into a sleek, upmarket salon, where the staff wore their hair in a variety of coloured crops and shining, incredibly symmetric bobs.

After a huddled consultation with a stylist called Benita, Clipperborough told the cameraman to roll VT.

He introduced the species and explained the transformation process. "This particular Essex Bird is called Tracey, or Trace, apparently. We're going to help her achieve her desire to transform to a Lesser Fringed Fashion Bird. Trace has worn her fringe to eyeball level since she was fourteen. Nobody has ever seen her forehead, so this should be a momentous moment." He turned to Benita. "Benita is a senior stylist who will create an individual look for Trace that will enable her to walk proudly down the street with other Fashion Birds."

"I only want half an inch off the ends," whined Trace, looking vulnerable in her silky black cape.

"Fat chance, sweetheart," the boom operator heard Benita mutter under her breath.

Less than a minute later Trace only had half an inch LEFT on her nape. Benita, sensing the Essex Bird's unease in being in such a trendy salon, decided to work quickly, and pushed the clippers with a number four guard up the back of her head to the occipital bone. All the bleached bits were cut off and the hair that was left was a warm chocolate brown. Benita chattered away while she clipped the back of Trace's head and sent inches of dry, crackly hair to the ground. "This colour at the neck is great. I'm going to leave it, and I'm going to foil the top four different shades of brown, blonde and red. Trace is going to look really striking with her new plumage."

Trace was looking petrified at the moment as her hair tumbled onto her lap. She flinched as Benita bent her ear forward and clipped around it, drawing the clippers out of the hair just below the temples.

Clipperborough was, for once, silenced as he watched the transformation. The camera operator caught the intensely interested look on his face as a reflection in the mirror.

Two minutes later Tracey's hair was almost a foot shorter than before. The longest hair left on her head was her fringe.

But not for long. Benita sprayed her hair with water and prepared to texture and layer the top.

"Move in," murmured Clipperborough to the camera operator. "We'll see some real action here."

Benita combed Tracey's fringe down flat. Then, wordlessly, she slid the scissors into it and cut the shortest fringe any of the team had ever seen. As the blades closed together, Tracey's fringe was cut off right to her hairline.

As one, the team gasped.

"Crikey, sport!" muttered Ralph, "You can't even call that a fringe any more!"

"This fringe has ceased to be," murmured Sean. "It is an ex-fringe."

Trace almost burst into tears as the scissors continued across her forehead, slicing her fringe to extinction. Her forehead was two shades lighter than the rest of her face after the last of her fringe slid down her nose to her knees.

The rest of Trace's haircut was almost an anticlimax as Benita snipped away at the top of her head and then covered it in a variety of colours in foils. While Tracey sat with half a roll of aluminium foil on her head, Sabrina returned with the latest fashions.

Tracey's foils were washed and Benita dried her hair. The nape was still chocolate, as was the microscopic fringe, but the rest of her head was a beautiful warm mix that would be envied by many and maybe set a new trend.

Sabrina helped her into the new clothes; the latest boot-leg trousers and a wickedly cut jacket in gunmetal grey. Her cheap, brightly coloured old clothes looked tacky by comparison. The salon beautician removed the heavy makeup and applied a more natural look with a soft, smoky treatment around Trace's eyes, which proved to be huge and startling green without the masses of electric blue makeup. Finally her clanking satellite-dish earrings were replaced with discreet gold hoops.

Sean let out a whistle; he couldn't help himself. He was almost tempted to ask her out that night then remembered the old adage: You can take the Bird out of Essex, but you can't take Essex out of the Bird. Heaven only knew what the rest of her wardrobe was like!

He ordered the cameraman to roll film as Transformed Trace the Lesser Fringed Fashion Bird stalked out of the salon, now confident and predatory in her expensive clothes and drop-dead boots.

The team watched, grinning, as Trace stalked down the street. One by one men turned their heads to look and by the time Trace reached the next corner no less than five of them were following her. It would make great footage; her newly cropped hair shone in the weak sunshine even more brightly than her forehead as she turned to look and grin at her admirers.

Clipperborough rubbed his hands in satisfaction. "Team, this has been the most productive filming day we've had in ages. But we do have something pretty special still on the list to wrap up the day, don't we, Sabrina?"

And so as the sun began to set the team made their way across town. The conference centre was illuminated as they walked into the circus-like atmosphere of the Hair Show.

For all of them it was sensory overload. Everywhere they looked hair was hitting the floor. Long hair was being cut short, short hair was being cropped, an exquisite Eurasian girl was getting her head completely shaved, updos were being created and short fringes being demonstrated. Cosmetic companies were handing out shampoo samples.

"Gee, thanks!" said Ralph, taking a handful.

Sean's skills as a director were never more taxed as he ordered the cameraman to roll footage here... and then there... and then over there.

"Ahem," said Clipperborough pointedly.

"Sorry," Sean said, and drew the cameraman's attention to The Boss.

"Here we are witnessing the well-trained Hair Models in action," Clipperborough shouted over the racket of clippers buzzing through hair, scissors snipping and stylists wailing. "Hair Models are rare creatures who combine the attributes of a beautiful body with a fine head of hair, and are willing to let stylists loose on their head without a qualm or a question. These trusting creatures may end up with whatever style the stylist chooses. They have been trained to display their new plumage on what's called a runway, and we'll get to that shortly. For now, let's explore the world of the Hair Model, and the creatures who train them, the stylists."

Clipperborough walked purposefully through the crowd, the cameraman following, bumping off gazing visitors and photographers. "This is Brian," Clipperborough stated, indicating a young man with a dyed white blond crewcut.

"Actually it's pronounced Bree-arn," Brian said, waving his comb and almost hitting Ralph in the eye.

"Er... Bree-arn, would you like to tell us what you're doing to this particular Hair Model?"

"Well, as you can see," lisped Brian, "She has wonderful waist-length hair. I'm going to cut it off into a short inverted bob with a shaved nape and a short fringe."

The cameraman caught the look of horror on the Hair Model's face. But being the well-trained creature that she was, she quickly arranged her features to complete impassivity. Only the sudden pallor of her cheeks betrayed any emotion.

"When you say 'shaved'," said Ralph, drawing out the word 'shaved' languorously, "do you mean shaved to the skin or just clipped short?"

Brian looked at him like he'd grown two heads. "Honestly! Who IS this dickhead?"

"Piss off, Ralph," chorused Sean, Sabrina, Clipperborough and the cameraman.

Unoffended, Ralph sauntered off happily, nicking another handful of shampoo samples from the next stall and singing "Washing Matilda, cutting Matilda, who'll come a-cropping Matilda with me..."

Clipperborough supervised as Brian pinned up the Model's hair, pushed her head as far forward as it would go and clipped her nape to a neat quarter inch long. Clipperborough swore later that when she lifted her head again a very unprofessional tear was visible in the corner of her eye.

"Looks like Bree-arn's having a Wahl of a time," Sabrina giggled to Sean.

"Except the Model looks Os-ter-ified," Sean grinned back. Clipperborough glared at the two of them.

The rest of the Model's hair was wet swiftly and the short bob cut. Sean decided that in post-production editing they'd speed up the film so Brian, who worked quickly anyway, would look like he was cutting the swiftest bob in history. He was a very outgoing stylist, singing and dancing and flourishing his comb like a conductor's baton as he cut off all the long hair so the bob just reached the Hair Model's earlobes, and sat half way up her skull at the back. As a final flourish he snipped her a half-inch long fringe with two long snaps of the scissors.

The crowd watching applauded as Brian nuzzled the edging clippers at the base of the Model's neck, shaving stray hairs to the skin, and then whisked the cape off with the energy and showmanship of a bullfighter.

"Go forth, my darling, and show me off!" he cried, waving the Hair Model in the direction of the runway, where other trained creatures were performing. On shaking legs the model skittered to her feet and touched her shorn head in what appeared to be disbelief.

The pouting creatures displayed their extravagant styles as they paced up and down, gazelle-like captives in their environment.

Clipperborough could picture the final scene in his head, Hair Models prancing elegantly with their glossy locks, the soft-focus applied and blending to a blur so that finally all that viewers could see was the sheen of healthy, freshly cut hair. The credits would roll over the top:

THE END OF ANOTHER DAY OF "THE LIVING HAIRCUT"

The end

Comments welcome to psharp55@altavista.net and sabrina.s@zdnetonebox.com
(c) Copyright Sabrina S and Sean O'Hare, 2000