A day of discoveries, some not particularly nice
You may well remember a comment or two made recently about free haircuts and whether or not I would be a suitable candidate for one. Or something like that. Well, as it transpires, I now have one or, should I say, part of one. How, you might ask, can you have part of a haircut? I hear you. I’d have been asking the same question yesterday. Well, let me tell you.
First of all, before I start on my trip to Málaga and my introduction to group hairdressing therapy, let me step aside and tell you how much I hate Microsoft Word. I am essentially without internet for the month. The apartment I am in is not so much rustic as rusty. (This is not a complaint, it is perfect for me, if I had internet I would be spending all my time running down Wikipedia rabbit holes or seeing how you say “no fucking way” in Spanish.) This means I have to write all this down in Word and then transport my laptop to a café with internet, pay for a coffee, and then upload to blipfoto. This only serve to reinforce my loathing of the absolute annoying bollocks that is Microsoft Word and its little red and blue underlines that highlight alleged spelling and grammar improprieties. If I needed grammar lessons from anyone, it would not be a Microsoft employee. I am delighted that I no longer have to scream abuse at the dancing paperclip, but seeing red lines and double blue lines under words that have been carefully crafted is enough to make me suffer an aneurysm. What’s worse is the limited vocabulary. Should I want to say floccinaucinihilipilification, I should be able to say it. Wankers. I find the lines irritating and distracting. They are, in essence, the computer equivalent of Jim Proudfoot.
Right, enough of that, back to the story. Having agreed to be a guinea pig and have my lank, greying locks savaged by a student, I made my way to the instituto de belleza in Málaga at the appointed time. There I went to reception and was introduced to a rather severe looking lady who, in my humble opinion, could have done something better with her hair herself. It was tied back in a bun so tightly, you could see her veins throbbing. It looked like she was using the bun as a natural alternative to Botox. I was about to ask if she was a guinea pig too, but thought better of it.
I went wearing a mask, but was told I could take it off if I wanted, as the hair cut would be done outside. I wasn’t sure where we were going with this: I had read recently about Spain’s difficulty in coming to terms with the banning of the corrida, and had a momentary worry that they had repurposed the bullrings for comedic purposes. Maybe I was to be part of a Spanish Just for Laughs Haircut Special or even a homage to Señor Bean. Would I end up with my head inside a turkey? By the time I was looking for signs marked Salida, I had been escorted into a small courtyard, nicely shaded by trees, and was being introduced to my executioners, none of whose names I can remember, as it usually isn’t worth remembering the names of those about to execute you.
Anyway, there were four of them, all female. I eyed them up and down and thought I could probably have taken two of them in a fight (if it were one on one and if I had the weapon of my choice and an element of surprise, that is). There was the student, of course; there was a specialist hairdresser to step in, were she needed; there was the examiner; and there was someone whose position I didn’t quite catch, but who seemed to have the role of interpreter. She might also have been an examiner, come to think of it.
We went through the general washing and conditioning of my hair, which took about 10 minutes, what with the combing through of conditioner and wrapping of hair in a towel for, I was told, a period of rest. (Rest? My God, when I wash my hair at home. which is usually every day at the same time as my shower, I shampoo it, rub it vigorously with a towel when I have finished, and then drag a brush through it. It takes under a minute. I let meat rest, occasionally, if I am not too hungry. But hair? Is this where I have been going wrong?)
Then I was led to a chair, under the shade of a tree. I couldn’t help but notice that there was no mirror. I asked the interpreter about this, as well as something along the general lines of “what type of haircut am I getting?” Again, I didn’t quite catch her response, this was becoming an issue already. Maybe she didn’t speak English, and she had been put in just to make up the numbers? Certainly, the words coming out of her mouth sounded like English, even if I could never quite catch their meaning. Perhaps she was Adrian Celentano’s sister? I was sure one of the words she used was “prisencolinensinainciusol” (again Microsoft, with the red lines). Alright. (For those not familiar with the Italian genius that is Adrian Celentano, he was a talented musician, so disgusted with Italian youth’s love of crap American music with ridiculously nonsensical lyrics that he bet his record company he could have a hit record by recording song in an invented language that sounded like English but with words that meant absolutely nothing, and nobody would be any the wiser. He did, they weren’t, and the song was a massive international hit. Prisencolinensinainciusol, is magnificent. Alright!) Sorry, more detours in this blip than on the 417.
Anyway, as we were attempting our own version of Chinese whispers, the severe looking administrator looked in and said that the hairstyle was being chosen to correspond to my own individual facial characteristics, hair texture, age and general appearance. In other words, I was fucked.
“You did agree to this, no?” she said.
“Well yes, I did. But there were certain stipulations,” I replied. “I mean, I said no to orange dreadlocks, for example. Ha, ha.”
There was no laughter in her response.
“This is a serious institute, señor. Our standards are recognized around the world. We do not do comedy hairstyles. You have hair that presents certain problems, and our students have to not only come to terms with these problems but find ways to make them become acceptable.”
I remember that speech word for word. I don’t think I have ever been so insulted in my life. (I mean, I have been called old, fat, stupid, all sorts of swear words. I even got called a ‘black bastard’ once by a Bulgarian footballer, but all of that was in anger. Making my hair “acceptable”? This, this she delivered with perfect calm, and she took it to another level. I looked round at the faces of the four executioners. They were all gazing down at me with beatific smiles. I turned round to question again the administrator, but all I could see were her shapely legs disappearing into the distance, the calf muscles being tautened by the severity of her bun. I turned back, and the smiles were still there. I recognized those smiles. They were straight from The Wicker Man.
“OK,” I said, “But no orange dreadlocks. I don’t want to look like Groundskeeper Willie.”
“Alright,” said the interpreter.
And, so we started. Snip, snip, snip. Blow dry. Snip. Sharp intake of breath from behind. Snip. Spray bottle, combing. Recombing. A tut. Snip snip snip. An appreciative sound from behind. Snip, snip, snip. Curling iron. Water bottle, water bottle again. Snip. Comb. Blow dry. Curling iron. More curling iron. Brush. Fluffing of hair with hands. Twenty minutes of it.
Then the examiners stepped in. “Blah blah blah.” Now the interpreter. “She say or say pison horray aybe in the colorboow style prisencolinensinainciusol, alright?”
Then the student stormed off. This, I had not expected.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when somebody charged with such an important task as shaping my locks for future public viewing suddenly throws a hissy fit and storms off, I don’t necessarily think she feels she has done a good job and is waiting for career-defining affirmation. I must have looked a little worried (worried? I was panic-stricken!) because the interpreter leant forward again and said something. That didn’t help much, so the examiner said, in quite immaculate English, “please excuse the delay, the student omitted an important step at the very beginning. I am afraid she will be marked down for it. But it is not a critical mistake. It does not affect your hairstyle. It is entirely procedural.”
“Shore stay ina colal miso, excep incolor, alright?” said the interpreter.
“But what did she forget?” I asked.
“The allergy test,” said the examiner. “She forgot to ask whether you had had your hair coloured before, and if not, she had to administer an allergy test to the colours we had selected. Failure to test for allergies can be very serious. It can lead to hair falling out and, in certain very rare cases, to anaphylactic reactions and death.”
The only possible response to this is “what the fuck?” and, it is to my eternal credit, that I didn’t say that. Instead, I said that I had no idea I was going to be taking my life into my own hands by getting a haircut. I had new respect for Mrs. Ottawacker, who obviously has levels of bravery hitherto unsuspected.
“So, what is my hairstyle?” I asked. “I am curious to see it.”
“The student will complete this part of the assignment and then we will assess it. We shall bring in the mirror at that time, and if you are unhappy with the look, then we can adjust it. I do not think you will be unhappy. Especially given how you looked when you came in,” she said.
I had to give it to this woman, she was impressively callous: she managed to be impeccably polite, yet reduce you to rubble in the same sentence. I imagined her as a dominatrix in her time off. Maybe that is how she could afford her bespoke outfits.
The student returned and apologized for her mistake (but not for storming me off and almost giving me a heart attack, I noticed.) Then she took a minute quantity of liquid and smeared it behind my ear. “You must leave this on for 24 hours,” she said. “If there is any irritation or itching or burning or if your ear falls off, please wash it immediately. That will mean there is an allergic reaction to the dye.”
“I am allergic to tree nuts, including almonds,” I said, “are there any nuts in the compound you are using?”
“No,” said the student. “There is nothing natural in the product. It is designed to make your hair look exceptional. You cannot have natural products and perfect elegance.” The examiner nodded her head vigorously at this and noted something on her clipboard.
“Alright,” I said. The examiner looked at me as if to say “don’t you start, it’s bad enough with the other one,” but remained quiet. Instead, the three of them started to prod and poke my hair, measuring lengths and tutting, saying things in a rapid staccato that my limited Spanish was incapable of catching. During this, I was watching the poor student, who was hopping from foot to foot, biting her lips, and generally not looking too happy. It suddenly struck me that if she wasn’t looking too happy, then maybe I should start being worried myself. Not least because I had to get back to Calahonda from Málaga, and that involved being out in public.
“The haircut is very satisfactory, señor,” said the examiner. “The student has done very well in this part of the exam.”
Then, I heard a shuffling from behind me, and two old men arrived carrying in the biggest mirror I had ever seen. Seriously, it was bigger than them, and looked really heavy. It was as if they had just popped up to Versailles and asked if they could borrow something massive for a state occasion. They crept forward, keeping the reflecting side of the mirror away from me. Indeed, when it was placed on the ground, I saw there was a cloth covering the glass. This was getting ridiculous. This just had to be a Candid Camera-style piss take.
Apparently not. Once the mirror was in place, leant against the huge desk that had contained the tools of the students’ soon-to-be trade, the examiner moved toward it and whipped off the white cloth. “Señor,” she said, “here is your new style.”
My first reaction was that I couldn’t tell the difference between it and the old hairstyle. But then I remembered I had taken my glasses off at the washing stage, and hadn’t put them back on again. I asked the interpreter if she would pass me my bag, which was on a table under the tree. She walked over to the table, and came back with a smaller mirror, with which she proceeded to walk around, I imagine enabling me to see the back of my head in the mirror. I couldn’t tell without my glasses. So. I got up and got the bag myself and sat back down.
My first reaction was how could hair dye, no matter how unnatural, make this perfectly elegant? Instead of looking like an old tramp with a two-day growth and seriously bad hair, I looked like an old tramp with a two-day growth and floofy hair. “It is a very fashionable style, señor,” said the student. “it brings out your ojos, como se dice en inglés, ojos? Testicles?”
“Hares,” said the interpreter.
“Eyes,” said the examiner. “The hairstyle, when it is completed, will bring out your blue eyes, and make them seem less bloodshot. Now we must make an appointment for the colour, depending of course on whether you still have two ears tomorrow.” Finally, she smiled.
Then the examiner showed me the challenge card that had been given to the student. I had to admit that the hairstyle looked fantastic, very modern and elegant. At least, it looked that way on the woman who had it. I looked up at the examiner with my mouth open.
“It suits you,” she said. “It is also worn by many actors, these days. You will look like a trendsetter back in Canada.”
A trendsetter I could be, but I just knew I would end up looking more like Mrs. Brown than Viggo Mortensen or Johnny Depp or, for God’s sake, even Sammy Hagar. I had visions of myself looking like Les Dawson when he was taking off his mother-in-law. This had not been in the plans for my immediate future.
“Once the cut is complete, you can have the haircut changed anyway you want,” she said. “Of course, if you decide not to complete it, it is easier to go to a barber and have it changed. So that was the deal, the pound of flesh. She would have made a good usurer, this one.
She helped me to my feet and I said goodbye to the executioners, or rather, they assumed, hasta luego. I now have to decide what I am going to do next. On the one hand, I want to look like Brad Pitt. On the other…
As I left to put on my baseball cap and make my way to the metro, the examiner had a few more words for me (and are we sure they have banned bullfighting? This woman was getting her own back on the Anglo pressure groups.) These, then, were my discoveries.
“You are very grey,” she said, “almost entirely grey. It does not suit you. It leeches out into your skin and makes you seem ill. And the only parts that aren’t grey are the bits where you are thinning. I recommend colour, it will delay the appearance of your, what is the word?, ‘tonsure’.”
Let me just close by saying, if you think I am posting a blip of the hairdo, as specifically requested by Mrs. Ottawacker, then you are mistaken. My vanity levels are generally not excessive, but they do exist…