Christmas. And stuff

del boyPersonally speaking, it’s been quite a strange and difficult couple of weeks – an intense couple of months, even. A very unique year – that’s certainly true. A dear relative was lost, various other important and pivotal once-in-a-life-time things have happened in not just my own life, but the lives of several of my family and friends, and, all in all, a time for celebration it has felt like not (that’s putting it mildly, actually. For a good few months, the idea of celebrating has made me feel sick, and I’ve even occasionally not felt like writing, which is very unusual indeed).

Yet I still find myself smiling, thinking about how utterly fortunate I am – for my lovely girlfriend and spectacular friends and family – knowing that it could easily be plenty worse. That when I was born, there was far more chance that I wouldn’t have the life I have than how it turned out in the end (I don’t mean to say that the family I was born into was a bit of a nightmare, because that’s not true. Not at all. I just mean it in a general, geographical sense). I prefer to say fortunate rather than lucky – when I think about luck I inevitably think of both good luck and bad luck, whereas when fortune comes to mind, I think only about the over-riding positive things which are there no matter what comes and goes through the years. The freedom to walk down the street, the choice to decide when I go out and who my friends are. Twix or Mars bar, that kind of thing (Twix. Definitely Twix. Two-for-one – how can you argue with that logic? Well, that’s if they haven’t got Wispa…). How I don’t get hassled going about my business, unlike many perfectly legal immigrants who are trying to make an honest living in this country and constantly find themselves coming up against enormous difficulties – police harassment, cultural and racial issues – which most of us simply wouldn’t be able to cope with. Using toilet paper which leaves me feeling content, even (if UK bought economy toilet paper is bad news for your bum-hole, then how bad is it in a city where supplies are seriously limited? Not good news for run-ragged anal fissures, acquired from diarrhoea triggered by poorly sanitized water, surely). Basic things which rarely seem like true privileges, yet can only be viewed in this manner when set against the contrasting realities of those living in numerous other countries out there.

Now stop imagining and wondering about anal fissures. I wish I’d never mentioned it. But do feel privileged.

My brother, sister and I have always had the option to ask for what we’d like as Christmas presents (that’s got to be a good way to get us off the subject of those pesky anal fissures, hasn’t it?). Something that’s certainly not unique and something that takes the piss, when you stop and think about it. That’s got to be another massive Western privilege, am I right? This year, I didn’t ask for anything in particular, and I have to say that it felt slightly strange. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything I really wanted – I can always think of plenty of things I’d really like – and it wasn’t that this was the way I deliberately planned it, either. In truth, the events I mentioned at the start of this blog post distracted me from being a self-indulgent gift-seeking bastard, and selfishly imagining what I might like didn’t feel like much of a priority – but don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual self next year. It was probably a good thing, I am now fairly sure, even if not asking for specific things eventually reveals itself to be one almighty downfall. Being able to select exactly what you want for Christmas every year seems pretty gruesome and wrong and monstrous when you write it down, I have just discovered. I think this year, I’ll be happy with surprises. Even though it feels like I’ve had far too many already. But still.

I also haven’t seen Home Alone once in the last week, which is more than a little unsettling. I mean, I’ve always loved watching Home Alone at Christmas time. A bit of Macauley Culkin? Go on then (what the fuck are the TV people playing at, really? Where has Home Alone been? Or did I just miss it? I hope not). The weather, too, has let both children and adults down. Stupid weather! Instead of a white Christmas, or even the vague threat of a white Christmas – almost as good, it has to be said, because half the fun is waiting for the snow to arrive, and adults who drive cars prefer the threat much more than the actual delivery – we’re presently enduring a storm which is making thousands of UK homes without power. One of those dull storms which doesn’t do a lot other than be miserable. No internet, no phone lines, no TV – at least in certain places. The only people who are winning are those with battery-powered Gameboys – they’re all powered by batteries, by the way, I just said that to emphasise my point – and, I hate to say it, those American freaks on US TV channels who are constantly preparing for the end of the world (I always knew they were on to something). There couldn’t be a worse time for this to happen, could there? (The only thing worse than missing Home Alone at Christmas time in the UK is having the ability to watch it at all entirely taken away from you). Then again, in our country, the phone lines get fixed reasonably quickly and internet is never down for long. Home Alone, too, is often repeated numerous times, even when you think you’ve missed it. And once it all gets fixed, we know we’ll be OK for a while. No rebels are going to come along any time soon with machine guns and wipe out any of our people, after all. So maybe we should just think ourselves very lucky.

And now this blog post is in danger of becoming one big preaching session. Bollocks. That’s frustrating. Frustrational – there, I invented that just then, and I like that better. I hate the idea of people out there thinking that, almost as much as I love the idea of Frustrational catching on as a new word attributed to me. Still, we are lucky to have choices and families and the option to be able to engineer how happy we are through the Christmas period. The option to Google anal fissures – don’t – and buy the kind of luxurious toilet paper that costs as much as a whole African village’s supply of monthly food. We’re lucky to have a Christmas period at all. Because some of us can be pretty fucking pathetic, starting with me. Just the other day, for example, I walked into the living room and started complaining about how it was cold. It wasn’t cold, not really. I was just being a stupid arsehole. With my Breaking Bad box-set less than fifteen-feet away and a week of freedom from work approaching, I felt like slapping myself, and would have done, if I’d have thought it might have any effect. But I just couldn’t help myself, could I? Less than ten Western minutes later I was moaning once again, if only inside my own consciousness where nobody else could witness its feebleness. This time it was about our internet connection, which was making life difficult by being really slow. The pages were taking as long as 3 seconds to appear in full right there on my screen. And now my consciousness no longer feels like the isolated void of freedom that it once did.

Another thing: I hate this whole Christmas is shit thing that some people have going on, I really do. Lighten-up. It’s not shit. It really isn’t. Even if you think it’s shit because you hate how commercial it’s all become, how trapped we all are in this one particular way, it’s good to have a few days off work and be able to ruthlessly self-indulge. It’s good, so enjoy it. Force yourself, if you have to. Even if you did leave it too late to order your Christmas presents. But then, there’s always the sales…

Turkey? Loads of booze? Sugary things, laughter, family and crap TV? Del Boy, falling through the bar, forever and ever, so we can’t forget it. I miss my Nan and I don’t really feel like celebrating and it doesn’t feel right to not have freezing-cold weather, but still, it’s Christmas, and I plan to bloody well enjoy myself, and force everybody else to, if it comes down to it. To notice and embrace the small things. My small moment on this planet. I’ll even wear my Christmas hat, even though my head is always too big for it.

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Haircut Story December 2013

As of December 17th, 2013, 3:45pm

Just been to the hairdresser’s. Hated every moment of it, as ever. Just like I knew I would.

Every time I go to get my hair-cut at this one particular place, which I shall not name, I get told off – sometimes quite badly. It’s the same every single time, and over the years I have actually come to quite like the routine we have fallen into: I keep walking through their door with hair which is unacceptably long, and I just can’t get the fucking message. “You’ll need to go to a ladies salon next time,” I have been repeatedly warned by the owner, who is also the chief male stylist there and a somewhat stern individual (you may recognise that statement from an earlier blog post). But, like I said, the message – I can’t get it and I know I never will (I’m a busy man with a life to lead and frequent hairdressing appointments are hard to arrange and keep to, that’s just the way it is). And clearly I don’t much care, either. The nostalgia is more important to me. Every time I’ve had my hair cut, I do the same thing – nothing, letting my hair grow out of its style and into a mess – and the same scenario unfolds again the next time. The sad thing is that no matter how long my hair is when I turn up there, I am never, ever turned away.

Let that be a warning to you, hairdressers of the world: empty threats result in future horrors. Just say no. Otherwise, you’re asking for it.

(Shit. It’s just dawned on me that I must be that one customer who they absolutely despise. That one customer who every salon surely has. The one who they wish would get the message but never does. Still, it costs eleven-pounds…)

Anyway, this time, before I went to get my hair cut, I decided to have a go at it myself. A proper good go. Take some of the weight out of it – that phrase stuck in my head the last time I came for my twice-a-year bollocking – and make it more manageable for them, so there was nothing to complain about. Do them a big favour. Cutting my own hair was initially quite a daunting thing to do – I didn’t know where to start but all the places I started appeared to be wrong. It soon transpired, however, that cutting one’s own head of hair is actually quite simple. You just have to free yourself. Providing you don’t set your standards too high, and providing you accept that it’s something of a learning curve, it’s simple enough. If you see a long bit, hack it off. If you see a short bit, well, you’ve probably already done that bit. But it never hurts to make doubly sure. That’s the key thing.

It has to be a good thing that I didn’t decide to train as a hairdresser. Then again, maybe my cavalier approach would have been just what hairdressing needed. Either way, it’s too late to tell. Or is it…?

Yes, it is. Don’t worry, that was a joke.

Today, within just a second or two of coming through the door with my woolly hat on, I was disturbed to find myself sat in the hairdresser’s chair. For me, this has always been a bad omen. I like waiting in the leather chairs and pondering for a few minutes – waiting just feels like the right thing to do. Yet today, I was denied that basic human right. It should come as no surprise that things were to go downhill very fast…

So I sat there. Then, a craziness came over me, underscored by the feeling of impending fear. Now, what I’d seen as I entered the salon began to cross my mind: the lady hairdresser sat reading a paper at the desk, the fact that aside from me and her, the salon was entirely empty. The chief male stylist was nowhere to be seen and today, I was to have my hair styled and dressed by a woman who I had never seen before! As she appeared beside me, and I removed my hat, I sensed the atmosphere change (it was true, also, that I suddenly fancied some chips, but that had nothing to do with it. I don’t think. Although chips have been known to change atmosphere. Particularly when somebody suddenly decides to steal yours, but that’s another story).

Her: “can I ask you a question?”

Me: “yes.”

“Have you cut it yourself?” she said.

“Is it that obvious?” I said back.

“Yes,” she said, with no hesitation. “Were you trying to make it uneven?”

I smiled with purpose and looked right at her. Smiling, in this context, is my way of saying I’m joking, obviously. I tried again but it came out all wrong and she made a little sigh. For a moment, I wondered if she might put her hand on my shoulder and tap me gently, ask me when the mini-bus was coming to pick me up again.

“I was going for the recently mauled look,” I said, smiling again, when she didn’t look like she knew what to say. This time I was happy with the smile.

“…By?”

“Sorry?”

“Mauled by what, I mean.”

I paused. Whenever I’ve heard the word mauled, I’ve always thought of an animal doing the mauling. I can’t remember ever hearing about a human being mauling someone. Not on one occasion. Obviously human beings do, but that’s called GBH or assault, isn’t it?

So I said “non-specific. Nevermind.”

“Oh.”

For several seconds, the mirrored opposite versions of ourselves looked at one another, until she said “right. So what should I do with it? Obviously your options here are quite limited…”

This is why I hate going to the hairdresser’s. Surely, when a man turns up having cut his own head of hair and shows absolutely no sign of being concerned about having done so, the job is pretty simple: make it look less shit than it presently does, if at all possible.

“I’d like it to look better than this,” I said. “Please.”

“Well, I’m not a miracle worker but I’ll see what I can do.”

“Wicked.”

What followed was pretty humiliating, really. First she kept suppressing a laugh, and then whenever the laugh seemed about to break through, she’d make a very serious telling-off comment, while touching my hair to remind me what she was referring to. These comments ranged from the innocent – “it should grow out in about six weeks, so don’t worry too much” – to the downright rude – “next time you feel like cutting your hair yourself…don’t, please”.

Next came concerns about what I might say after leaving the salon. That I might tell everyone she had done a terrible job. We had a brief debate because she wanted to do a comb-back 1980s Cotton Trader catalogue style hair-cut, but I didn’t, because I was absolutely certain it would look like utter shit. It got pretty heated, actually – and it was made all the worse, at least for me, by the black cape which I felt trapped by at all times. At one point, she seemed to be on the verge of winning the argument. Until I reminded her that it was more important that I was happy with the hair-cut I was wearing. Surely, I thought, if you cut my hair how I want it, I am less likely to tell everyone you did a crap job?

The hair-cut dragged on. For as long as five minutes, I was instructed that if I ever wanted to have my hair cut in the future, I should not attempt to do it myself, and that if I absolutely had to cut it myself, I should first buy a special type of scissors designed to not remove large chunks, but fine pieces of hair, thus creating an even-uneven look. I had, by now, given up on telling her that me cutting my own head of hair again and coming to this salon was quite unlikely. There was hope and the hair-cut had reached its final phase. The less I said, the quicker this episode would be over and done with.

“Well, it doesn’t look good in any way,” she said, showing me the back of my head with one of those special small round mirrors, “but it’s cut. So there.”

So there.

It is,” I said, and it was then when she asked me what I did. Ha! I thought. Now it’s my turn!

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh. What kind of stuff?”

“You know, for the internet. For websites and things.” And blogs where I detail the crap experience I have recently had at the hairdressers. Then I went back to making mental notes about the experience so that I could recreate it in all its horrible beauty.

“I see. Right.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I think it looks better, so you’ve fulfilled your brief. You’ve done a half-decent job of it. It’s not even a bowl.”

“…Thanks.”

“Pleasure. I always end up with a bowl, so to not end up with a bowl for once is different. Great.”

I looked at myself in the mirror again. At the first hair-cut I’d had since my one in Vietnam earlier in the year when it actually went amazingly well and was even less bowl-like. In the mirror, now, it looked alright to me (take that statement as you like – clearly my standards were pretty low to begin with). Then I paid twelve-pounds – yes, a £1 tip for Christmas’s sake! – and walked out the door, wondering how different my life might be if I was a mean person who named and shamed companies on the internet on his blog, in that vicious way that clearly must be fun, because everyone who writes in The Guardian online’s comments seems to do it.

I’d never do that, I thought. To be fair, I did make her life bloody difficult today. I’m so happy I am not a hairdresser…