Pamper day. Time to amble into my favourite hair salon for a cup of tea and a natter.
By eleven I was sat in my favourite hair emporium, earnestly discussing tresses.
Look more closely.
A steaming cup of tea in front of me, my hairdresser and I were engaged in earnest conference about layers, lengths, weight and movement. There is a language of physics which accompanies hair.
For hair can be in possession of any number of properties. It might be curly, straight, or wavy depending on the complex building blocks of each strand, It might be dry or lustrous, light or dark, blonde, brown, red, grey. It might be long, mid length or short, thin or thick, plentiful or sparse.
You try constructing a decision tree around that lot.These hairdressers, they have to be a cross between the white-coated physicists in the local research lab and the crazy ladies you meet reading tea leaves in the bottom of cups in cafes.
Mixed with a solid understanding of what hair is and how it works, there must be a sprinkling of fairy dust, a savant clairvoyance, and it must all be sealed with style.
I listed my impossible demands and ended with the incantation to the goddesses of hair: “I trust you. Just do your magic and make it look wonderful, please…”
A student took charge of washing my hair, but she was watched like a hawk by another member of the coven. Make sure you apply conditioner lower down, the observer cautioned. Work it in carefully. This is how you comb it out: use this implement, this comb, this finisher….
I was mesmerised. My hairdresser is Sophie and she’s An Important Hairdresser. Thus, small twittering minions were clearing courses of action with her, rather like officers coming to ask permission of Wellington to advance at Waterloo. “The lady wants a graduated bob, but she says she wants to keep it long,” a tremulous redhead stammered reverently. Sophie dispatched her, agreeing a compromise with all the wisdom and clout of Boudicca.
Somewhere a buzzer sounded. Someone said: “is that mine?”
“No,” rejoined Sophie firmly, not faltering from an instant from a piece of precision snipping, “..it’s mine.”
She never said how she intended to deal with the buzzer. They all had them: timers which dictated just how long they should spend on each section of an appointment. It was like being a car on Henry Ford’s production line, only with a cup of tea.
Jessie J appeared on the television screen. Oh, I thought, pop music. But no: they were researching someone’s style. A woman had come in for a Jessie J style and the internet was down, so they put her song on the telly and took mental notes. Someone said: “It’s a classic Cleopatra…”
“Yes, but her hair’s got a lot of body…” commented another.
I was struck by the earnest professionalism of these people, to whom it seemed hair was life itself. We educationists are rarely so focused; and when we are it is because, like my hairdressers, we love the core product to distraction.
Hair – the science bit – makes me laugh like a drain.
Take one strand of hair. On the outside is a layer of flat round ’tiles’ laid like roofing slates, one over the other. It’s called the cuticle. It is ordered, and structured, and if you treat it properly it makes a head of hair gleam.
It shields the cortex, bundles of keratin proteins in rod-like structures which thread underneath. Once again, the rods are rigidly structured and organised, like rows of soldiers at boot camp.
And at the centre is a complete shambles. The new recruits who haven’t a clue. On occasion, the shambles forgets even to exist.
It’s called the medulla. It’s just this disorganised set of loosely connected cells at the centre of the hair. After all the structure, into the centre of the hair a little chaos falls.
Humans have less shambles than the rest of creation. While many species have at least half of the width of a hair shaft taken up by medulla, man’s takes up only one-third. But not always. This come-as-you-please feature may be large in one hair from a scalp, and non-existent in another.
One wonders what that medulla is for. Why would creation introduce a chaotic chamber at the centre of one of our most prized features; one which only troubles to appear on a random basis?
I considered, briefly, discussing the perplexing business with Sophie: but as she was already handling a number of disparate operations, I feared that if I added another my hair might end up the wrong shape.
Better to watch, silently, and learn just a few pearls of wisdom from the science, the art – nay, the the grimoire – of hairdressing.
Picture source here