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Hampstead Heath, a pub — and a colleague sidles over, not too tipsy: “Your wife has cool hair,” she says, her face brimming with amazement. They have not met before. “It’s so surprising,” my colleague says, and she sidles off.
My wife has a bright blonde bob. My colleague is surprised that someone with cool hair should choose to marry me — someone, that is, without cool hair.
But I do have cool hair. Or I thought so. At least, I have a cool hairdresser on a market street in Hackney.
The air is bright; beards are popular. There are naked bulbs and foreign languages. Most jeans are skinny. Most people are called Lucia or Jean-Paul. Tattoos peep above the belt line.
Real men do not use this hairdresser — they pay £10 a few doors down — but then real men do not get offered sparkling wine to sip between snips.
I tend to pass on the prosecco, drink two beers instead and Lucia cuts my hair like she did last time — no rush, snip, snip, one hair at a time. And I feel at home.
Haircuts elsewhere used to be trickier. I never minded much about the hair, but the questions. “What are you doing tonight?” is impossible to answer without sounding weird or boring or both. “What are you doing tonight?” “Oh, I just plan to cook cutlets and eat them with my wife.”
Lucia is not fussed about my plans tonight and nor is Jean-Paul. Both are too busy skipping about like highly evolved butterflies.
My wife dislikes my hairdresser. She has been about twice and she was fine with it initially. The first time, her blonde hair emerged intact; the last time, it came out deep red. I liked it, I thought it was cool — I had a ginger wife. But she has not gone back.
It is Sunday, 4pm. Lucia is snipping with tiny scissors just above my left ear. A little boy is getting his hair done just like mine, his posh, hipster mum on guard nearby. He sips a glass of orange juice and I wonder if he is too young to be in here, it looks precocious. Snip. But maybe I’m too old. I am 36 — I could be his father. I swig my beer youthfully.
When I was his age, I fell into a Scottish river and cracked my head on a rock, causing the top of my head — just above the hairline — to bleed flamboyantly down my face. It oozed for two days before it formed a thin scab, which I picked a lot — until I picked away all the hair. Then for 25 years, it hid behind my hairline. And life went on.
Nothing can hide forever. Snip, snip. I watch my scar in the mirror — it teases me — each week, a fraction more. My wife keeps up a fantasy that all is fine, there is no movement and I am really 22 — yet perhaps I am receding . . . Snip, snip. And not just perhaps.
Bare-bulb brightness fills the room. Lucia frowns inwardly — snip, snip, one hair at a time. The boy has his mop blown dry, his mother preening. And I sit and swig beer, staring at death right in the face.
Lucia rubs wax between her fingers and wipes it on my hair. She sculpts a bit, smiles discreetly. More warm wax. The minute I’m outside, I’ll mess it up.
And then it’s the mirror behind the back and yes, yes, yes, it looks great, thank you. I pay, leave and check my hair in the off-licence window. Mess it up.
And — really — what is the point of going to a cool hairdresser if you don’t leave with cool hair? How long can I keep coming here?
Halfway home, I resolve to grow a beard. A winter coat. I shall buy a nice beard trimmer.
I cook cutlets, while my wife chops mushrooms.
“Do you think my hair is cool?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says, not looking.
My wife lays the knife on the chopping board. “Yes.”
Fine. We watch TV and do normal Sunday evening stuff like ironing.
Before bed, I catch my wife staring at my hair. It might be sticking up on top.
“What?” I ask. Her bright blonde bob glints.
“You look like a chicken.”
Alexander Gilmour is associate editor of House & Home; @AIMGilmour
Next week: Jane Owen’s ‘Provincial life’
Illustration by Sarah Hanson