You may remember I told you earlier about my experience at the barbers when I took my son James along for his regular trim, when I got an unexpected trim as well.
Driving to the restaurant for my monthly meeting with "the girls" I stole perhaps the fortieth glance of my new appearance in the vanity mirror and smiled to myself. Not just for how it looked but remembering the sensations as the clippers ploughed back from my forehead, the long lengths snaking down my body to hit the floor and the final shaving away of the remaining stubble at the back and sides. I had to pull over to catch my breath and compose myself before driving on!
Naturally I was a little late. 4 or 5 of the group were already sitting at the usual table. Some looked up as I entered but then looked away without even a hint of recognition. I approached the table and Di looked up, and started to speak.
"I'm sorry, these seats are all ... Jess? Jess!"
The other girls looked up, then looked around and one by one and came to rest on me. As recognition dawned the mouths dropped open. There was a silence of at least 30 seconds until Di came to rescue with a perhaps rather predictable statement.
"Jessica, you've cut your hair!"
I smiled confidently and said, "Well yes, just a little. James says it looks awesome ...." And this broke the rather strained atmosphere that had surprisingly begun to build. Smiles and requests to have a closer look followed. I met the various questions concerning why I did it and how it felt with the single word, "Later." Within ten minutes the whole group had arrived and conversation had moved to the many other subjects that we absolutely needed to discuss every month! However over the drinks and the meal I frequently saw most of the girls at some point stealing a furtive glance at my hair - if we made eye contact while they stared they invariably just gave a sheepish grin and quickly looked away ... almost guiltily.
We finally reached coffee and brandy. No brandy for me as I was driving but most of the others had either got a taxi or got a lift from one of the others and - lucky them - had already had a good quantity of wine. Di stood up.
"OK girls. You may not have noticed but Jess has had her hair chopped off." A lot of laughter - they had noticed! I think we all agree she does look 'Awesome' now we've had a chance to get used to it. She has agreed to give us a short story" - more giggles - "relating how she came to the decision, how she felt when it being done and what she feels now. Come on Jess."
It was like replaying a video recording. I could visualise it all in my own mind. The customers who were before me, then James and then me. And I told it all. The emotions I experienced watching the hair fall from those first few customers, the interest as James was shorn, and the how I felt as I approached the chair. Well, to be honest, I toned down how I felt but my audience could still appreciate the strong emotion. As I related my own shearing I could see most of my friends visibly shiver - sub-consciously, or perhaps even consciously, fingering their own locks. As I described the moment the clippers were thrust into my hairline young Jenny gave an involuntary little squeal which gave rise to a little nervous laughter from the rest although quiet quickly resumed as no one appeared to want to miss a word of what I was saying.
"... And then he scraped off the shaving foam to leave the shiny smooth back and sides that are reflecting the sun into your eyes right now!" And as I finished talking I tossed my head from side to side in a gesture that a few hours before would have resulted in a cloud of dark, glossy hair spreading out and hitting at least half of my audience in the face. They knew and instinctively flinched, and then laughed.
Di looked at me, pondering, and then said "But you haven't answered 'Why?' We know you love - loved? - long hair. You always said you would never cut it. And then you do this. Why?" Di had got up and was standing behind me, one hand resting on my nape and the other gently passing over my brush-like remains. I gave a shudder - and the rest of them, presumably involuntarily, followed suit.
"Why? Knowing me as you all do, you should know." Several puzzled looks were around the table. "You know what I would have said this morning if any one of you had said this was how I would look this afternoon, don't you? Exactly - the rude word that Patricia has just voiced." I looked around the room and simply said, "You had to be there!"
Silence! A few nods. They now understood. Di, still behind me, then said, "I think I speak for all of us when I say that we wish we had been there." Several mutters of agreements from around the table and a few rather disappointed expressions
"So do we leave it there girls or do we wish to fully understand?" They all looked at Di expectantly. "OK, hands up who wants to understand." All hands went up, almost as one.
Then young Jenny said "But how?"
"Good question, Jenny. Any ideas?"
Some murmuring around the table but nothing came of it.
After a minute Di spoke again. "OK. I have a proposition." They all looked up. "We draw straws!" Mostly blank looks. "One of us is chosen at random and then we go back to Jess's barber and the lucky girl has all her hair chopped off while the rest of us watch."
There were several large intakes of breaths and few murmurs to the effect of "you must be joking!" I thought it was a great proposal!
"Well, you all put you hands up earlier. You said you wanted to know. Have you all changed your mind?" Silence. "After all it's only a one in six chance that you'll get chosen."
Jenny said "Seven surely, including you Di. I presume Jess is excluded!"
Di quickly said "I have to arrange the selection process which excludes me, I'm afraid."
I quickly piped up. "No problem Di. I'll organise the draw if we decide to go ahead. So do you all want to go ahead?
I think that little victory over Di polarised the group - perhaps the drink helped - but six hands shot up and six pairs of eyes rested on Di. Or, perhaps less surprisingly, her hair! I think we were all thinking that we would like to see Di's immaculately permed, highlighted, mid-back blonde locks hit the floor.
Di realised she was trapped as far as the group was concerned. She had no choice whatsoever. Her hand slowly rose.
"OK. I promise you're going to enjoy whether you're chosen or not," I said. "Trust me!"
With that I picked up seven toothpicks from the table, breaking off the end of one of them. I arranged them in my right hand, which I then held out. Patty and Chris were the first to select and were OK and looked more than a little relieved - mind you that was now and perhaps later they would feel disappointed. Di then reached out and there was an expectant hush but she was also clear. Then Jenny selected one and ... it was her! We all looked at her as she stared unbelievingly at the small piece of wood that had sealed her fate. Jenny was the youngest of the group - she had just turned 30 - and I think it would be fair to say that all of us would have preferred her not to be the victim.
Jenny looked up, and a look bordering on terror could be seen lurking behind her calm expression. "Best of three?" She looked hopefully around the group but we could see she was joking - or I think we assumed she was as Jenny, perhaps more than anyone else, was always loyal to the group and group decisions ... well, under normal circumstances. Before anyone else could say anything she simply said "Well then girls, we better get this show on the road!"
As we collected our belongings we saw Jenny disappearing to the cloakroom with the ends of her poker straight, thick, blonde, hair bouncing up and down on the rear pockets of her tight jeans.
I could imagine her removing the ever-present hair band. She would be combing her hair for one last time - a luxury I didn't have and, given that she had some time to consider the outcome, perhaps a luxury that she could do without! And then, no doubt, she would restore the hair band to its regular position - again for the last time, as it was likely to serve any useful purpose once the barber had completed his work.
And she approached. She had clearly had a few tears, the effect of which she had mostly managed to hide with make-up although the red eyes were a giveaway. As the instigator of all this I felt I had to say something to give her the opportunity to back down.
"Jenny listen. You don't have to do this. Just say and I'm sure we'll all support you in your decision." And I was fairly sure they would. But Jenny realised that she wouldn't be able to feel confident in the group ever again. No one would quite trust her. No one would quite believe her.
"It isn't a problem. I want to. It will be fun." She was very unconvincing but she was correct in saying it will be fun - I, at least, would enjoy watching it but perhaps the fun would be one-sided. "Let's go!"
We reached the barbershop and I noticed that, according to the sign on the door, it was due to close shortly. There was only a single customer left and he was being attended to by MY barber. I approached and a young lady inside waved me in. As I entered I realised it was the receptionist who was now sporting a similar style to my own and did she look great! I complemented her on her transformation.
"Surely you're not back for a trim already?" she said.
"Hardly. A friend would like her hair cut. Is it too late?"
"Well strictly speaking, yes ... but let's check with Paul. Paul, are you happy to stay a little later to give another woman the close attention of your clippers?"
Paul gave her a very old fashioned look as if to say, "Need you ask?" And then he said "Need you ask? I would be more than happy to help out in a distressing - or should that be de-tressing - situation. Which of these young ladies is it to be. Do I choose or is it perhaps all of you?"
Certainly interesting alternatives to our selection process, I thought - perhaps we'll save them for another day. "
The gang had all sat down on the bench along the back of the shop and were taking in the vibes of the place - a type of establishment, like me, they had probably not experienced before. Jenny eyes were locked on the customer in the chair - Paul had gone to work with the clippers and the smart, collar-length, office style disappeared to leave an exceedingly short cropped skinhead style. And then the guard came off, as did the rest of the guy's hair at the back and sides. Jenny's eyes were out on stalks - she now had an idea of what to expect. She caught my eye and a mixed expression of fear and dawning understanding appeared on her face. I nodded and smiled.
The guy appeared somewhat dazed by his shearing. Had he asked for it? As the cape was removed and he began to get up, his hands went straight to his head to feel the effect. As he looked up he seemed somewhat surprised to see a group of attractive women sitting along the back of the shop studying his haircut!
Jenny promptly got up, walked over to the chair and sat down. She lifted her hair and flicked it over the back of the chair where it spilled down in golden splendour to touch the floor.
Paul picked up the cape and I stepped forward and gently lifted up the beautiful cascade of hair and he drew the cape very tight around her neck. I released her hair and some of it fell in almost perfect symmetry on each side of her face, down her chest and into her lap. It was held away from smooth forehead by the hair band. The rest of her hair streamed down the back of the chair once again.
Paul looked rather longingly at Jenny's hair. He then looked towards me and I realised I was probably in the way. He then asked "Would you like to assist me in cutting Jenny's locks?"
I could see the play of emotion on Jenny's face. The horror that this guy was going to do what he wanted with no discussion of style.
"Yes please. I would love to help if Jenny doesn't mind." She smiled and whispered that she didn't. The whisper, I could tell, came not from a desire to talk quietly but a natural reaction to a respiration rate that was going through the roof!
"OK, please could you remove the hair band and then gather all Jenny's hair into a ponytail at the crown. Use these to secure it." He handed me a couple of rubber bands. I was about to say that these were damaging to long hair and then realised that this may prove somewhat irrelevant.
I gathered the hair as directed and held it in place with one of the rubber bands. Paul approached and with his right hand held the rubber band in place and, with his left, firmly pulled the hair several times until it was taut. Jenny winced each time and on the final pull even cried out. The result was that Jenny's eyebrows appeared visibly raised and her eyes seemed to be wider giving her a rabbit-in-the-headlamps look. Paul then took back the second rubber band and fitted it just above the first. Well that seemed a little unnecessary but at least it shouldn't fall out while Paul did whatever else he had decided to do.
We all looked in the mirror and saw Jenny prepared for whatever the next step was to be. She still looked somewhat startled with her hair held so tightly. Paul, always apparently ready to try something new reached down and picked up what appeared to be an extremely sharp looking cutthroat razor. And so it proved to be as he picked up the end of Jenny's ponytail and held it high and then simply sliced straight through her hair between the two rubber bands.
Jenny gasped and this was echoed by the rest of the girls. In a split second, quite literally, Jenny was no longer the lady with the long golden hair. Paul held a magnificent swatch of hair nearly three feet long, which he handed to me. I walked over to the girls and together we admired its length, thickness and condition.
Jenny gasped again. She was trying to say something but the traumatic experience had left her breathless - quite literally. She looked rather un-Jenny-like. In the years I had known her, her hair was always loose and usually held off the face with a hair band. I had never known her put it up or even to tie it back. She actually looked rather engaging, rather sophisticated, with her remaining hair still firmly held on the crown of her head - a half-inch at most protruding above the rubber band. Of course, if the band was to be released there was no way such short lengths could be gathered once again into such a neat style. But, knowing Paul, this was unlikely to be an issue. And so it proved!
Paul picked up a comb and bit by bit pulled the hair below the crown out of its restraint. The rubber band served to hold the hair very firmly and hence each length to be pulled down was a painful process for Jenny. When he had finished the hair above a line from the ear to the crown was still restrained and the rest hang loose in a rather fetching layered bob style. I could see Jenny relax a little ... at least until the hum of the clippers started.
Jenny had regained some composure. "How short do you think you're going to cut my hair. I don't want those things used on me. I would have liked it to be shoulder length - you should have asked what I wanted!"
Paul looked at me and smiled, and then at Jenny rather pityingly. He simply said, "My customers know that I know what they will like. I pride myself on knowing. I have decided to bob your hair as some length will suit you better than a crop. A bob resembling a cap, or bowl, if you like. But now this" - indicating the longer lengths pulled from the restraint - "this, needs to be removed. Will you put your head forward please." No option - Paul firmly pushed Jenny's head down and the clippers set to work.
Everyone was spellbound by this stage as I predicted, although it was a little difficult to ascertain Jenny's view as her head was held firmly down and cut hair was flying around her.
All too quickly, for me at least, Jenny was allowed up, and the rubber band was removed. The hair fell into an almost perfect bowl shape, and contrasted sharply with a clippered nape - but not shaved in Jenny's case. A little trimming and a quick comb through and the style was finished. Paul held up a mirror but Jenny had already started exploring the style - feeling the back, the sides and turning to explore her profile. I think she looked stunning.
Jenny got up when the cape was removed and faced the group with a sad, sad look on her face. They had clearly all been affected, emotionally or whatever, by the process. Seeing Jenny's face they all look concerned. Then Jenny gave a wicked smile, looked at each member of the group in turn and the rested her gaze on me and exclaimed "Awesome!"
I could Paul smiling as he swept his area and we chatted. He then stood next to his chair looked at the group and we heard that single word ...