Saturday, September 11, 2004

Cut & taste

There are certain things that you take for granted in life – death, taxes, the embarrassment of parents cleaning your face with spittle, a plague of slow drivers in front of you when you’re in a hurry - and photographs from those dinky little passport booths being utterly horrific.

If you take a look at my driver’s license or passport, you could easily ascertain that I’m either a perpetually surprised prat or that I’m a furball with a face. You see, those photos were taken in the BP part of my life. I am now AP and, evidently, things work completely differently this end.

I am, of course, sectioning my life ‘Before (hair) Product’ and ‘After (hair) Product’. For someone like me that has masses of devilishly curly hair, this is a significant stage in development, akin to learning to walk, talk and appear to be awake in lectures about workplace law.

When I was small, my hair would often overshadow me. It was down to my knees and almost covered the breadth of my back. It would be brushed once a week by my parents, sitting next to each-other on a bed. I would sit on the floor and endure an hour’s worth of pulling, tugging, ripping and cutting as entire little clumps of matted hair would be cut out of my mane.

After several years of this nonsense, my mother decided that my hair would be far more manageable if it were shorter. A wise decision for those with daughters possessed of sensible hair committed to obeying the law of gravity. Unfortunately, my mother was a little overzealous with her instruction to the hairdresser and it was cut to just above my shoulders…when wet.

Now, my hair has the miraculous quality of being half as long dry and curly than it is when wet or otherwise straightened. What started off as a bob became a hirsute helmet that looked awful on my already round face.

I spent the next ten years alternately growing it just past shoulder length then becoming annoyed with it and lopping it off – then becoming depressed because it looked so very bad when short. A particularly bad judgement led me to believe that I could somehow have hair the colour of Belinda Carlisle. Off to the supermarket I went for a box of hair dye, on went the dye, off went the dye, on went the hysterics as I realised I had dyed my hair the colour of Ronald McDonald’s.

The only thing that could conceal such a blunder was something very, very dark – so I dyed my hair the darkest shade of brown available. Conveniently, this was concurrent to a gothy stage in my youth. Not so conveniently, I had blondish roots. And blondish eyebrows. 2 days at a hairdresser’s dyed it back to blonde – but at the expense of frizziness the likes of which the world had never seen before. It now positively stuck at 90 degrees to my head in its natural state.

I had to do something…so I started experimenting with hair goop. First it was the heavy duty stuff – the mousses and gels that made me look like I never washed my hair at all. Coupled with a young girl’s lack of knowledge about the art of reducing one’s eyebrows to a bearable size, I looked very much like a Russian shotput champion out for a Sunday stroll.

Then came the first leave-in conditioners, which I never quite got the knack of, because I would only ever apply them to the top layer so it looked like a giant dirty blonde puffball was trapped underneath a layer of smooth, lovely curls. It was a little like a hair jail.

Successively growing the hair out, trimming off the damaged, bleached ends and extending my repertoire of hair care and maintenance products has finally produced a mane that is trained enough to look somewhat respectable most days. I learnt that a combination of the right products applied in the right order did utter wonders.

I was now AP. No longer does it look like I have an electrified squirrel clutching the back of my neck whenever I pull my hair back. No longer do I take out whole swathes of commuters every time I turn my head.

A week or so ago, I happened to be at my parent’s house when their hairdresser stopped by with his sharp little scissors and a head topped with blonde-tipped spikes that announced to all the world that he was either a great fan of The Pet Shop Boys or worked in something very artistic. This man actually does the hair of some rather famous celebrities at a certain salon that shall not be named and occasionally comes to some people’s homes to minister to their manes. I leapt at the opportunity of a trim (anything to hide the horrendous hairstyle a Toni & Guy troll had perpetrated on me).

He fussed and tutted, weighed my hair in his hands and exclaimed at the Toni & Guy butchering job.

“You maast haff it lonk!” he exclaimed in English, even though we were conversing in Russian. I think he really felt the need to get the point across in my native tongue as well – just in case I felt some strange urge when I was next near the kitchen scissors, no doubt.

“Look at vot zees eediots did! Ah! I am from ze Vidal Sassoon School – form and strakture. Ay vill feex zis. Yoo vill come every tvelve veeks. Yes.”

So he fixed it. He really did. And, finally, barring a couple of centimeters that we kept “For makink it lonk.” the damaged hair is gone. It swooshes and glides again.

This is all very important background information to what happened yesterday…I had a passport photo taken in one of those little booths. It was NICE. Actually it was beyond nice – it was flattering.

I didn't look in any way, shape or form like I was hiding a couple of kilos of Semtex in the seams of my clothing or like I had just hiked across the western Sahara with only an asthmatic camel and BBC radio for company. I wasn't squinting, I didn't look look mentally unbalanced or like I was thinking about Mao Tse Tung in his knickers. In short, it didn't look like your bog standard passport photo.

I took the photo to C and she exclaimed using language certainly not befitting a cultured young lady. I showed it to M and he took one of the four squares and quickly spirited it away into his wallet – this is a man who has never carried a photo of me with him anywhere.

The ONLY explanation I have for it is that the hair looks amazing. All. By. Itself. I’d had it scrunched into a ponytail-cum-randomly-bound-ball and just shook it out.

And it fell into place.

It actually seemed to understand that its purpose in life was to frame my face rather than run screaming from it. I think I could have actually grimaced and the hair would have saved the shot.

Halle-bloody-lujah, it’s been 26 years in the making. I have conquered the photo booth - I am ready for the world.


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