Yesterday I cut the hair of clients daughter. Not a huge deal I know. It was the conversation I had with this little girl who took me back to a day I’d rather forget, but never have. My five-year old client was doing an exceptional job of sitting so very still and straight, while I cut her hair. A dramatic change from hair halfway down her back, to a long bob just long enough to tie up. She was very excited about her change but as the cut went along she grew a case of the wiggles. Sitting for a period of time for an adult can be hard, let alone a five-year old. So I thought I’d distract her with my story, to encourage her to sit still for a little while longer. And, she did. The version I told her was less graphic, yet got the point across. She’s a smart little cookie.

I wasn’t much older than my client. It was the days of Gene Wilder in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and hoola hoops. Late in the day we had finished our baths, jimmy jams on and ready to watch Charlie on the G Marts TV. Mum sat me down in front of her, and ripped a brush through my tangled and wet, fine hair. I could almost sit on my hair back then. It was a huge amount of work. One hundred strokes with a brush every day. I detested it as much as I loved it. A love hate relationship with my flyaway mousey brown hair. I’m sure Mum felt the same. As I sat in front of mum, she asked if I would like rollers in my hair to give it a curl. She had bought them earlier that day. “No way!” I screeched. That was totally not cool. What if somebody saw me? Yup, not likely in Rainbow, but regardless, I was adamant it was not happening. I didn’t want my hair curled. I just wanted to watch Charlie. Mum pondered for a bit continuing to drag the brush through my wet hair. “Right!” She says. “It’s getting cut off then.” I didn’t register the seriousness in her voice. I thought she was kidding, so I replied with an “okay, cut it off!”

Mum stood up, walked to the phone, dialled eight digits, waited… “Hello Val, it’s Maise, Nom needs her cut”. My world spun. I was giddy. “No way” under my breath, “she won’t cut it”. I sat on the couch and lost myself in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. WIlly Wonka and the Oompaloompas mesmerised me. I just wanted to watch Charlie, not get my hair put in stupid rollers. I’d almost forgotten about it when the glass sliding door skidded open. VAL!!!! The tears started. I sat, so quiet in the corner of the couch hoping I wasn’t noticed. I was invisible.

Sobbing, I was dragged to the kitchen bench. No point in fighting it, it’ll happen anyway. Mum sat me on a high stool and Val cloaked me up. Her Dame Edna glasses flashing at me. Her bright red lippy on her pursed lips. The smell of her last ciggie wafting across me, mixed with the smell of her salon. A scarf held her rollers in place, and she had one around her neck. I was terrified. I was scared. Completely confused and bewildered. Val hacked at my hair. Snip, snip after snip. Stained fingers moving the scissors, and flicking her black comb. She chopped that shit off. All of it… OFF. Completely fucking gone. I was transformed to a boy. A boy with a long skinny neck and a stupid straight fringe that my cowlick took control of. I hated it. I hated Mum. I hated Val and the G Mart for letting it happen and I sobbed. Standing up on the edge of the bath, looking into the bathroom mirror I was devastated. Mortified and embarrassed. How was I going to go back to school like this?

The irony now is that I have short hair. I’ve recently had it shorter than it was cut back then. I love it short can you believe? It took me thirty odd years to go back to that place. That dark place of boy short hair. When I think about how traumatic that one haircut was it changes everything I do while cutting hair of children. The resentment I held for Val endured for a very long time. I cringed when mum made me go to her salon in the main street for a trim. I never trusted her again, and that’s sad. Val had skill, so many skills that were not used that day. I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted to do it, and I’m certain she would have tried to sway Mums decision. Any good hairdresser would have.

Val was the G-Marts best friend, for many, many decades. All of my childhood, Val cut my hair. None as traumatic as that one cut thankfully. She cut me my first bob, which I loved. I remember the smell of her salon, perming chemicals, so pungent and offensive back in those days, and cigarette smoke. Her little salon was red, with floral wallpaper and little salon mirrors with a scalloped edge in front of chairs. Val was a good woman, better than most. A fine example of how we all should be. One of her sons was intellectually disabled. Val refused to have him sent away after he was born, like most would have, in that generation. It was the done thing. This boy was lucky to be Val’s son. She kept him home with her, where he belonged, against all the advice to do otherwise. He had his own area in the shop-front and if I’m honest he scared the beegeezus out of me. He was strong as an ox, as tall as a man and loud. He lived a happy life with Val and she only sent him away when she got too old to care for him. I admire her strength and fortitude in times of adversity. That adversity and hardship brought out a fucking wicked sense of humour. She was a cracker! The town prankster, singer, crossdresser, hairdresser, mother and friend. Val was one top chick, a testiment to her era and I miss her. The whole town of Rainbow misses her.

Make sure you turn the teapot twice clockwise and once anticlockwise!


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