It is Saturday morning, and I am not yet sure whether I have a hangover. By rights I should: two G&Ts, a Kir Royal, a beer and a Cosmopolitan would normally be a toxic enough mixture to lay me low. Thankfully, as I open first one cautious eye, then another, exposure to light doesn’t herald in a searing headache. Nor does breakfast cereal cause any queasiness. This is fortunate, because there are few things worse than a trip to the hairdresser’s when one is suffering from mal au cheveux.
I apply foundation, not feeling brave enough to stare at myself in the mirror under fluorescent lights without it, and thank the lord for the absorbent powers of sushi rice. Taking a final long look at my hair, which perversely always looks particularly fetching the day I decide to have it cut, I wrap up warmly and hurry to the metro.
I rarely enjoy paying a visit to the hairdressers. It’s disappointment guaranteed. The only variable is the actual degree of that disappointment, which can vary from utter despair (the haircut inflicted on me days before the birth of Tadpole, which I describe as my “racoon with mange” look, little documented in the photo album) to a feeling of having been cheated (no difference discernible to the human eye, for the price of a mid-range digital camera). Scarred by past hairdressing misfortunes, I dread that final moment of truth when I must replace my glasses, hands trembling, and behold the results. Adopting my most convincing “oh, a pair of socks with polka dots on, that’s exactly what I wanted for Christmas” face., an expression which remains frozen in place until out of sight of the salon, where my bottom lip starts to wobble and then I crack, barely stifle a howl.
I give my name to fiftysomething facelift on the front desk, presumably the salon owner. She gives me a resentful glare when I confess I cannot recall the name of my hairdresser. I suspect she is worried about spoiling her perfect manicure by typing my name into the database. As I haven’t been back for eighteen months, having tried a couple of places on visits to the UK in the interim, I am not what you would call one of their esteemed regulars.
My colourist is called David. Something of a misnomer: Goliath would be more fitting. David boasts rippling muscles, and an all-over fake tan, the buttons of his white overalls straining to contain his hairless, brown hulk-like torso. His mouth looks oddly inflated, and I spend the next half-hour (€ 107) trying to work out whether he has had collagen injections, or just has a terminal pout. Unfortunately, David also has rather rough hands, and a tendency to pull each strand of hair painfully taut as he applies the white paste. I wince, quietly, and wager that the wealthy forty and fiftysomething ladies around me with their generous tips and insipid conversation about their next trip to Mauritius get somewhat gentler treatment. Thankfully I am permitted to keep my glasses on throughout this part of the proceedings so I escape the vapid chatter by burying my nose in a Japanese ghost story.
The time comes for rinsing, and I dare to hope that I might, at least, get a head massage. But no, instead David manhandles my scalp with his large, hulk-like hands, roughly applies a soin(€ 14) and disappears without a word, after twiddling a dial at the side of my reclining chair.
I sit and wait. And wait. Look at my watch. Cross and uncross my legs. Sigh. Begin to worry about the fact that I have left my handbag out of sight at the other side of the room. Wish I had my glasses. Wonder where the toilet is. And why there is a concealed rolling pin inside my chair, working its way up my back. Indeed, I am being massaged by a chair. A warning would have been nice. And although the feeling is soothing at the outset, it gets a little stale after twenty minutes have elapsed. And makes me painfully aware of my bladder.
A few more interminable minutes pass, and finally an apologetic junior appears to rinse off my conditioning treatment. David, it appears, does not do rinsing. The shower spurts into life; I cross my legs tightly.
Rinsed and turbaned, much relieved after a visit to the ladies’ room, I am ready to face the last hurdle: Jean-Francois, hairdresser extraordinaire. He claims to remember me, but allow me to remain inwardly sceptical. I am asked to stand, something I have only ever experienced in France. Ten snips later (€ 77) a junior is enlisted on blow drying duty. J-F dries the last few strands, and shows me how to do a zig-zaggedy parting.
I replace my glasses.
The results are surprisingly good. Goliath has done a decent job with the highlights – subtle, but not invisible – and J-F Superstar has at least respected my wishes, leaving my hair mid-length and layering the front, as instructed. So far, so good. I am escorted to the front desk to settle my bill. Studiously ignored by the surgery queen for a full five minutes while she tries to persuade my hairdresser to take more appointments, despite the fact that his last four clients have all complained about the long wait.
Finally, she deigns to turn to me, compliments David on the colour (causing me to wonder if maybe it is’t a bit too brassy, after all?) and calculates the grand total. I gulp. We are in digital camera territory and I am having a flashback to the last time I stood on this spot and vowed never to darken their doors again. How could I have forgotten?
But the worst is still to come. With a vinegary smile, like bile wouldn’t melt in her mouth, Madame Nip Tuck continues:
“Dis donc, vous en aviez besoin, hein?”
It is probably A Good Thing that I don’t have a pair of scissors to hand.