- No-one can spell it right. ”Is that with one T or two?”, they never ask, preferring to spell it with one.
- It has a really boring meaning. ”Oh, your name means ‘Patient Servant of the Israelites’? Mine means ‘from Scotland’.”
- “Beam Me Up Scotty.” I was bored of that before I left playschool THIRTY TWO YEARS AGO.
- Words it rhymes with: Snot. Swot. Spot. No fun for a good student with acne who didn’t drop his h’s.
- It is horribly late 1970s.
- It doesn’t suit me. I don’t know what would. I might have to start signing my name with an X.
I hate getting my hair cut. Hate it. It’s a control thing. I have to sit in a seat and let someone else - someone I don’t know or trust - alter my appearance.
When I was a boy, my mum’s best friend was a hairdresser, so that was ok. We’d go over to her house, play with her kids, then we’d get called into her kitchen and have our hair cut. It was simple and it just happened and we knew it would be a reasonable approximation of a normal haircut.
Now? Now there are all sorts of variables. Barber or hairdresser. Town or suburb. Do you go somewhere you’ve been before, or risk a new place?
I go to a place in a nearby village. There are two women with thick Scouse accents and a tv that plays daytime telly (today: The Wright Stuff with the discussion topic “Should there be IQ tests for jurors?”). I sat by a gas heater and waited to be called up by the chirpy girl. She slots me in the seat and says “What do you want done?”
Here’s what I want done: I want shorter hair. That’s it. I have no preference beyond that. But I have to pretend I have a style and a “look” so I say “number 2 at the sides and back and cut short on top, please.” This is just a random confluence of words that I recognise as barbering terms. I don’t actually know what the result of this statement will be, apart from “your hair will be shorter”.
She starts brushing through my hair, untangling the knots. I have very thick hair, and I just brush it with my fingers, so it forms itself into a permanent wave across my face. As she yanks it apart, separating the strands, I start to feel anxious: is she going to talk to me? Is she going to ask questions? I look down so we don’t make eye contact - that way she might realise I’m shy, or just plain rude.
“Your hair’s pretty long, isn’t it? Do you normally have it this short?
“Yeah. It’s just been a while since it was last cut.” November 5th, to be exact, because I had to go through a really tedious conversation about Bonfire Night. I don’t tell her this, just inwardly cringe at her silent judgement.
Women barbers (barberellas?) are more attentive to you, and ask more questions. Is this long enough? Do you want it to fade into your sideburns? Square cut or tapered back? This is because women have been taught to care about their hair since an early age, and to embrace different styles and cuts. My answer to all these questions is “dunno”. I can’t tell if it’s long enough or too long until she’s done it. My sideburns usually disappear when I shave badly and accidentally make them lopsided. If it’s at the back of my head, I really don’t care, so long as she isn’t shaving WHITE PRIDE into my scalp.
(Male barbers, in my experience, don’t ask these questions, and just get on with it; however, they are also more prone to inappropriately sexist and racist conversation, and a barely veiled threat that they use their straight-edged razors to dispose of Mafia hitmen. They’re trying to show you that even though they’re in the beauty industry, they’re actually all men, and you’d best not forget it).
She hacks and slices at my hair, thankfully free of conversation (unlike at the next seat, where the hairdresser is talking about her forthcoming safari in Kenya), occasionally presenting elements for my approval. I nod, or happily confirm whatever she last said, not really knowing. She whips at the back of my neck with a brush and then shows me the details with a mirror. This would be a pointless enterprise at the best of times, but since I am chronically short sighted and my glasses are sat on the counter in front of me, she could be showing me a photograph of the Eiger and it would look the same. I nod anyway, and say “great, thanks”.
She pulls off the cloak and hands me the tissue that she’d tucked in the back of my collar. I have no idea what I am meant to do with this tissue. I shove it in my pocket, and forget about it, a hairy momento that I will discover in a couple of days time when I try to blow my nose on it and get a nasty surprise. It’s £7.50; I scrabble around, pull out £9, and hand it all over. That’s more than I would have tipped really, but I’d have felt cheap if I’d dropped a pound coin back in my pocket, so there you go.
Out into the street and the wind whips over my newly shorn scalp. I am relieved it’s all over. And still dreading having to do it again in a couple of months time.
I skipped reading Lady Audley’s Secret. I just had better things to do, and I figured I could hide at the back of the tutorial while everyone else chatted away.
As it turned out, no-one in my tutorial had read Lady Audley’s Secret.
We’d all skipped it, which was pretty embarrassing, and which drove our tutor mad. She sent us off with a flea in our ear, telling us to make sure we read next week’s book, Aurora Leigh. I hadn’t even bought Aurora Leigh yet, never mind read it.
I skipped the meeting with the college’s Academic board I was meant to go to that afternoon and headed into town. I scouted round Liverpool’s bookshops, found a copy of Aurora Leigh in Dillons, and scooted off to a pub.
I should have gone home really, but I wanted to get started reading it, and besides, I’d come all the way into the city - I may as well have made a day of it. I went to my favourite pub, The Lisbon. It’s a gay bar, and I knew that it’d be quiet. I can have a pint, I can sit down in peace and read the book.
It was a Wednesday afternoon so the place was empty, just a few scattered punters. There was one man talking to another over the other side of the bar. He was wearing a thick jumper over his shirt. I thought, “he’s not bad”. Then went back to my reading.
It was really hard work, Aurora Leigh. It’s just one big long poem. I needed another pint to get me through it. And then another. I slugged through.
That man was still there; his friend had left. Was he shyly looking my way? I didn’t want to meet someone - I had gone through some crappy guys lately and was thoroughly bored of the whole thing. I didn’t fancy going over and making a fool of myself again. I carried on reading.
Until he came over to me. He asked if he could sit down - he didn’t want to interrupt. I said, yeah, why not? Aurora Leigh was incredibly boring. I could do with a break. A bit of a chat.
He’s sat next to me right now as I write this. That same man, that same relationship. Just us.
Sixteen years ago today.
It was my birthday at the weekend.
I went to York. National Railway Museum, tea rooms, historic buildings, blah blah blah.
More importantly, in an antique bookstore, I laid hands on first edition Bond novels. A £1200 copy of Goldfinger. A £425 copy of James Bond and Moonraker. A £250 copy of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (slightly damaged).
I also found out that the first edition copy of Brokenclaw I have on my shelf is worth £30. Which isn’t bad, let’s be honest.
Tonight I was going to see Skyfall with some friends.
I suffered a massive anxiety attack and couldn’t bear the idea of going in a cinema full of people. I came home.
MY MENTAL ILLNESS IS MAKING ME MISS JAMES BOND FILMS. IS THERE ANY POINT IN LIVING ANY MORE?
It’s seven o’clock on day 200 of the Photo A Day project and I need to think of something special to celebrate it. I have five hours to come up with something but I’m drawing a blank.
Suggestions gratefully received.