Confidence is a strange thing, isn’t it? In certain situations it can be there in abundance and, in others, it seemingly crawls away to leave you exposed and shy; the metaphorical pair of trousers in the worryingly realistic dream of school assemblies.
For example, today I have been updating a worky thing which has photos of me on-stage in front of thousands of people. In one case, it was with someone who’s regarded as an “A-list actor” (has anyone ever actually seen these lists? Are they like shopping lists? Do you suppose someone from a press agency has ever arrived home after compiling such a list and realised, “Oh no! I’ve forgotten Burt Reynolds”?). The point is this: in those situations, I feel completely at home. Completely self-confident. It’s the career path I chose and it’s what I have loved and do love doing. On-stage, in front of people, talking and generally messing about, that’s somewhere that I wouldn’t ever worry about being. On the flip side, going to the hairdresser’s is somewhere where I don’t have that same level of confidence (although now I’m wondering what would happen if I got my hair cut on stage..?).
I would like to point out at this juncture that the place I go to have my hair cut is brilliant. It’s relaxing, it’s beautiful and the staff are not only friendly but they’re talented with it (if you’re ever around Beverley in East Yorkshire, I recommend it – www.delacyspa.co.uk – they have fish that eat your feet too). It isn’t the venue or the people who make me lack confidence, far from it; it’s me. From the day I first started getting my hair cut at a salon called Renaissance (where I had a constant stream of teenage crushes on all the stylists that worked there) I have always struggled with the big question: “So, what are we doing today?”
What are we doing today? As I sit and type here, with time to think about it, I still have no idea how to answer that question. If at some point in the future there’s an iPhone app which can relay what you see in your mind onto a screen so other people can see it, that would be one of the most thank-worthy inventions of all time (I was engaged once and I designed the ring just as I saw it in my mind; except that when I drew it it was nothing like I saw in my mind. Luckily the engagement didn’t last otherwise we’d have faced a lifetime of people seeing that ring and me having to explain, “that’s not what it really looks like in my mind” to very confused faces). What are we doing today? I have been going to get my hair cut on my own for probably 12 or 13 years now and in all that time I haven’t learnt how to answer that question correctly. For over a decade this has, pretty much, been the ensuing conversation:
Hairdresser: (after initial pleasantries and my failed attempt at humour) So, what are we doing today?
Me: Um… just, erm… (I wave my hands around my hair in a manner that makes me look like I want to perform the YMCA but can’t remember how) kind of… like it is but a bit shorter.
Me: Well, yes, obvious, I know… but not too short. Just, erm… kind of…
Hairdresser: Right, ok. So, would you like to follow me and I’ll wash your hair?
The hair washing bit. Now, I like the hair washing bit. I do enjoy thinking and the hair washing bit is a very relaxing place to do a bit of thinking. Obviously, depending where you go and how good the salon is depends on how enjoyable the hair washing bit is. There have been countless places I have been to where my Britishness has led me to have a very sore scalp afterwards.
Trainee: (through a cloud of billowing steam) Is the water alright for you?
This is where I struggle with my own thoughts. “Ouch! That is boiling. How can she not feel that is actually boiling water? Mind, if I couldn’t tell the hairdresser how I wanted my very own hair cutting, I stand no chance of explaining to the trainee how to perfectly combine cold and hot water to reach the most comfortable temperature attainable. How do I… ARGH! Ah well…”
Me: Yes, that’s perfect. Thank you.
Today was nothing like that scenario. In fact, before the water had even begun to run, the stylist (I shall call her Saffron because that is her name) asked, “Would you like me to put your legs up?” I must admit, I hadn’t expected that. “Put my legs up? Like in a hotel?” I thought momentarily before realising that I was, in fact, sat in a reclining chair and so Saffron’s request had made perfect sense. “Yes, please. Do they go all the way up?” I enquired. They didn’t. Why would they? It was a stupid question (although, to her credit, the stylist didn’t point this out. To be fair, the stupidity of my question was self-evident in itself and so she didn’t really need to). So, with my legs now in the most comfortable “up” position imaginable and with the massage chair doing its funky little business, the hair washing bit commenced. The water was running at a perfect temperature, the music was calming and the hair washing was as relaxing as could be: a perfect opportunity to escape into the world of thought that I have previously mentioned.
Except that I didn’t. That is to say, all the time my hair was being expertly washed, I just had one thought in my mind. At this very point in my life there are lots of things to think about. I am moving away on Saturday; I am in the middle of writing a comedy which needs material; I am waiting to hear if a network is going to pick up said comedy; I can’t remember where my favourite tie is. There is a lot to think about. However, none of that was in my head as the hair washing bit expertly commenced. There was only one thing in my head.
Me: When you’re washing people’s hair, do you make a mohican out of shampoo?
That had never crossed my mind before today. I doubt there is anyone reading this(!) who has not, at some time in their life, made a mohican out of shampoo when in the shower or the bath. I know I have. In fact, this Saturday just gone I was listening to Elvis in the shower and was 20 minutes late meeting friends because I’d been trying to style a King of Rock ‘n’ Roll quiff out of shampoo. Even so, I’d never wondered whether hairdressers do it.
Saffron: No. (polite laughter) I can’t say I ever have.
Politely, she replied in a way that suggested it was a perfectly good question and that she genuinely never had thought about it. I think we both knew that it was, as rightly hinted at, a perfectly good question and I only hope that I have sewn seeds of experimentation into the shampooing hands of that very salon. I’m not saying that if you do go there they shall try it; I can only hope that is the case.
Having been taken from the washing hair bit area, I sat in my chair, scissors happily crafting the very hairs that had out stayed their lengthy welcome upon the only head I dare possess upon my shoulders. I relaxed. I’d got the whole awkward non-explanation of how I’d like my hair cutting done and I had enjoyed the hair washing bit without (a) falling asleep in a relaxed slumber or (b) drooling due to (a). Admittedly, I’d asked a couple of daft questions but at least one of them needed addressing. So, there I was sat in my chair, imagining that David Frost probably asked questions when he was getting his hair cut. I like David Frost. “I’d like to be a bit like Sir David,” I thought as I sat in front of the mirror with the stylist displaying her talent for hairdressing. Just then, I felt it. That akwardness was coming back.
I had another question that I wanted to ask but, again, that whole self-confidence thing took me back to school and a time where I didn’t ask questions for fear of it just being silly (I know: where was that thinking prior to the “Do they go all the way up?” query?). I didn’t ask. I kept it inside. Saffron was busy attempting to create something out the nondescript description I had given her and it wasn’t right to ask another silly question. Sir David Frost wouldn’t ask silly questions. I wouldn’t ask another silly question.
Me: Where should someone look when they’re having their hair cut?
I’d asked another silly question.
Saffron: Sorry, how do you mean?
Me: Well, I don’t want to look at you cutting my hair. If someone is stood over me when I’m typing then I make all sorts of mistakes. That said, if I just look at myself in the mirror as you’re styling away then that’s odd too. A grown man having a staring competition with himself? I’ll probably start making those polite-yet-awkward acknowledgements like you do with someone who gets in the same lift you’re in…
Saffron: Um… I don’t really know…
Why would she? Why would she know the answers to such an array of inane questions that were coming out of the mouth of a 34 year old but were clearly being thought up by the mind of a 5 year old? I continued to look ahead. Vaguely.
Light chatter continued. Pleasant, friendly and without awkwardness (except the point where she combed my hair to one side and I pointed out how it looked very suave when David Beckham did it but had resulted in me looking like a non-moustachioed Hitler). She asked me if I liked it and I did. I really liked it. Not only had she shown a true talent but she’d displayed it in the face of mindless waffle.
Despite the wavering confidence that comes with not knowing how I want my very own hair to be displayed and the fact that I know I’m going to give the impression that I’m as sophisticated as a trampled mushroom, I do enjoy going to get my hair cut. Actually, I love going to the place I currently go to because they couldn’t make you feel happier if they tried; it’s just a shame my mind has to go with me. In fact next time I’m going to let it look around the shops whilst I go to get my hair cut.
So, Here’s What I Have Learnt Today: Although hairdressers say they don’t actually make mohicans out of shampoo when they’re washing your hair, we can’t know for sure. Not unless there’s a mirror nearby.