Full Story


It is Saturday morning, and the kids have been packed off to their grandparents for the weekend. The house is silent, peaceful, and, best of all, tidy. The Mother is feeling especially jubilant today, not just because the kids aren’t there. Today, she is off together hair cut and her eyebrows shaped too, if she can ever be arsed to get out of bed.

Going to the hairdresser’s is the Mother’s favourite thing in the whole wide world. But having a lie-in with the entire bed to herself is a close second so it’s a tough call. Eventually, she unwraps herself from her queen-sized quilt, gets up, and washes her face. But now, it is 9.30, and she is running late. She should be leaving the house, not searching through the dirty washing basket for a clean pair of knickers. Ten minutes later, she is out the door. In the end, she decides not to bother with make-up or a bra – you can do that when you’re over 40.

The Mother is not the only one in town who has shunned convention today. On her way to the hairdresser’s, she notices two young women who each appear to be wearing something resembling a bra. They have, however, completely forgotten to put a blouse on. They certainly haven’t forgotten to put on their make-up, though, no siree. Their eyelashes are so long and tacky, it’s almost as if they are made of plastic. Still, no time to hang around judging the youth of today, the Mother has a 10 o’clock appointment with Cynthia. And Miss Cynthia is always a stickler for punctuality.

At precisely 10 o’clock, the Mother arrives, slightly sweaty, at the ominously named Cutting Room. Immediately, the receptionist leads her down the creaky stairs. Then through a narrow corridor to a tiny room which smells strongly of disinfectant. In the middle of the room, there is a bed covered in a long strip of blue paper towel. The room also contains a small metal unit, a pair of scissors, some melted wax and a pair of tweezers. “Jesus, all this torture in the name of beauty,” thinks the Mother. Nervously, she takes off her boots and lies down on the blue paper towel. It’s like being at the doctors she thinks, now bend those knees.

At that exact moment, as always, the anxiety kicks in. The unease, the knot in her stomach. It is not the thought of the pain that is to come that worries her, she’s grown used to that; it is the cellar itself. Although the staff have gone to great lengths to make the place look attractive, they’ve failed. This subterranean bunker always reminds the Mother of one thing and one thing alone – a backstreet abortionist. She isn’t sure if it’s the smell, the hideous cyclamen pink walls or the sterile metal bed. But all it needs is a bucket in the corner, and she’d be there – on the set of some gritty, northern, 1950s-set drama about some poor girl who had got herself in the family way.

That’s it, thinks the Mother, the next time I get my eyebrows done, I’m going to pay the hugely inflated prices at Bellisimo’s.” At Bellisimo’s, you might worry about the dent in your wallet when you leave the place, but at least you don’t feel scared going in. In fact, your spirits lift the minute you set foot through the door there.

First, there is the lovely scent of Chanel which greets you. Then comes a glass of wine from an elegant beautician. But best of all, while you wait, you get to sit on a chaise longue next to the window. Sitting there on its pink satin fabric, you always feel more like a high-class escort rather than a punter. It is worth the extra five quid just for that.

Suddenly from behind the opaque plastic curtain, Cynthia appears. “Hello, you look miles away,” she says. “Yep,” thinks the Mother, “and the next time I get my eyebrows done, I fucking will be.”  

But for now, this will have to do. The Mother won’t be here for long anyway. It’s not like there is much discussion to be had – not like, for example, when you have certain other areas waxed. Then, you have to decide on which style and cut will best suit your fanny. With eyebrow shaping, there is only ever one question: “Threading, or hot wax and tweezers?” For those who have never had the treatment, here is a quick heads-up: threading is a pain akin to childbirth, while waxing is also like childbirth but with gas and air. The Mother opts for wax.

After a few minutes, her eyebrows are finished, and they look fantastic – thin and elegant, with not a grey hair to be seen. All thoughts of her grim surroundings dissipate as she admires herself in the mirror. She feels great until: “Would you like me to do your upper lip as well?”

Oh dear, what a silly thing to say. Now, Cynthia has lost her tip.

The moustache comment doesn’t bode well for the Mother, and she has a feeling things are about to get worse. Call it a sixth sense. Still, always the optimist, she trots upstairs to get her hair done. 

The hair salon itself is less ominous than the sinister rooms below, and once upstairs, she begins to relax again. Soon, she is plonked down in a comfy black chair, eagerly waiting for a hair wash. A young woman places a warm towel around her shoulders and then goes off to make her a cup of tea – milk, one sugar. “This is nice,” thinks the Mother, and she closes her eyes and relaxes a little more. Given her disposition, relaxing isn’t something that comes easily to the Mother. However, the routines and familiarity of the hairdresser are always very reassuring.

Given this, imagine the Mother’s utter panic when she is greeted by a member of staff she’s never set eyes on before. Where is Zanae, her usual washer? She doesn’t want to appear unfriendly or anything, but she doesn’t know this lady from Adam. The Mother is very choosy about who washes her hair.  

There are some people out there who think washing other people’s hair is easy and that anyone can do this job. This is nonsense. Following the same logic, you could say that anyone can paint, or that anyone can sing. Yes, of course, they can, but not everyone is Whitney Houston or Picasso or, in this case, Zanae.

Most people don’t realise how many key factors contribute to a good wash until they’ve had their hair washed badly. Washing other people’s hair takes a specific skill set. It is an art, and sadly Donna does not possess the required artistry.

As Donna begins to wash the Mother’s hair, she immediately feels water running down the back of her neck. The young lady seems blissfully unaware of this until the Mother points it out, along with the fact that the water temperature is tepid at best. A brief discussion ensues in which Donna freely admits that she doesn’t really know what tepid means. 

“Tepid?” she says, laughing. “Sounds like a word my nan would use.”

Then maybe your bloody nan should wash my hair, thinks the Mother. Christ I bet your Nan is younger than me. Best not say that she decides.

Seconds later, the problem has been rectified, but then the heat keeps rising until boiling hot water is scalding the Mother’s scalp. However, being British, she can hardly complain twice! Far better to keep a stiff upper lip and apply the Savlon liberally when she gets home.

Soon the Mother’s hair is all bubbly with Terrasse shampoo, and she closes her eyes and breathes deeply.

It is fortuitous that the Mother has shut her eyes, as it means that Donna’s jangly charm bracelet is not as fucking irritating as it might otherwise be. A horseshoe up the nose is one thing, but in the eyeball? Well, that’s hardly a sign of good luck, is it?

When the Mother does open her eyes again, it is not to the sight of a four-leafed clover or a tiny silver cat but to a pair of breasts. Yes, the Mother has a full frontal view down Donna’s top. It isn’t an unpleasant sight or anything, just not one she was expecting. She can’t recall ever seeing boobs during previous washes at the salon, which is clearly another sign of Zanae’s professionalism.

She then notices – well, it is difficult not to – a tattoo on Donna’s left breast. There, in pink and black ink, is a small rose. The Mother, whose whirling imaginative mind never switches off, begins to have creative thoughts. Her mind is never really still, and she is always going down wormholes. It’s probably all that acid she did in the ’90s.

Books, a collection of books, short ones. Alternatively, a series of weekly articles in one of the broadsheets. Maybe not.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo had been done. But she was definitely onto something with the whole tattoo thing, so maybe.

The hairdresser with the rose tattoo.

The prisoner with the do-it-yourself tattoo.

The raver with the smiley face tattoo

The Nazi skinhead with the swastika tattoo

The hungover adolescent with regrettable tattoos.

The hipster with the usual tattoo.

The grandad with the first wife’s name in Chinese tattoo.

The “don’t forget to cover it up in court” neck tattoo.

The unfinished “Jesus, I never knew it would hurt that much” tattoo.

Best of all – the child with the lick-on Spider-Man tattoo. A gift which they got in a party bag, stuck on and then could never, ever remove. Even after two weeks of scrubbing, a dirty grey mark remained, and would remain on that child’s arm until they were well into their 20s.

This was definitely an area of writing to consider, but not right now. 

Now comes the highlight of the hair wash – the conditioning treatment. For a few brief seconds, the Mother feels like a film star, albeit a slightly dishevelled, hairy one – Hagrid perhaps. Unfortunately, the water soon begins to run down her neck again. She repositions herself slightly, like a newsreader about to do a fart, and then pulls the towel around her neck a little tighter. However, in this new position, her forehead serves as a kind of waterfall. Water flows over her face, down her chin, and eventually down her chest, which, if you remember, is braless. By now, the water has taken on a red tinge as a result of her recent application of Fire Twister – lasts 6–8 washes, my arse.

Finally, the ordeal is over; the Mother sits up in her chair and looks at herself in the mirror. Christ! She had been hoping for a transformation. But not into Sissy Spacek, aka Carrie, minus the gorgeous pink dress (and physic powers). Donna quickly grabs some cotton wool and dabs the Mother’s forehead.

“It’s just a little hair dye,” she remarks.

“Yes, I know. Thank God it’s not pig’s blood, eh?” says the Mother, laughing, and Donna laughs too, sort of. As she laughs, she looks into the Mother’s now bloodshot eyes as if to say, “What the hell are you talking about?”

And the Mother looks back at her and thinks, “Yes, what the hell am I talking about?”

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