shades of grey
Do you think it’s time I embraced the grey, Sam?” Sam’s my hairdresser. He was fiddling with my hair, weighing it in his hands, looking like a doctor about to deliver bad news. “There are lots of grey-haired women around,” I said. “Some look fabulous!”
Sam didn’t say anything. I’ve done this before. I’m trying to get him to make the decision. “I’m serious,” I said. “I think I might be ready. I’m reading grey’s the new blonde!
I’ve always wanted to look like Helen Mirren.” “Who’s Helen Mirren?”
In Sam’s defence, he’s young. “Helen Mirren is a marvellous actress. She played the Queen in The Queen,” I said, sounding a little shrill. “She’s 71 and she still looks sexy!” Sam looked alarmed. “I don’t mean ‘really sexy’,” I explained hastily. “I mean in a nice, quiet, older woman kind of way. Actually she’s probably more well-groomed than sexy.”
The woman to my right, her hair in foils, yawned and said, “I liked her in Prime Suspect. But she was younger then and blonde. It’s easier to go grey if you’re blonde.”
“Actually, her hair is silver, not grey,” said someone three seats down. “She’s also slim and elegant. You have to be if you’re grey otherwise you look like a bag lady!”
By now, people were putting down their mobile phones and magazines. Arguments broke out about ageing gracefully versus keeping up appearances. The cool guy sitting next to me pulled out his earbuds and looked silently at Sam in the mirror. Their eyes met, they raised their eyebrows, and in unison. They silently shared what my sons call the “hysterical older woman” alert.
“I didn’t see The Queen,” Sam said gamely. “But I did see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with Miley Cyrus. She’s so hot.”
“Does she have grey hair?” I asked.
My mother embraced her grey hair the first day she found one.
“Nope. She’s blonde or black. Sometimes at the same time. She put out an album called Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.”
“That sounds fun,” I mumbled. I hunched under my plastic cape while the arguments went on. An hour later, my hair was its usual shiny brown and the grey “tide line” along the part was gone. Once again, I’d chickened out.
My mother embraced her grey hair the first day she found one. Back then, only “fast” women dyed their hair. Mum was a regular at Evelyn’s Beauty Salon, where she had a shampoo and set. Every six weeks she had a cut. The hairdressers, Evelyn, Therese and Francine, wore high heels, tight skirts and an eye-watering amount of perfume. I adored their red lipstick and impossibly long nails.
Therese and Francine had naughty boyfriends and Evelyn’s husband was always helping police with their enquiries. All three laughed and sang all day. Everybody felt good when they left Evelyn’s salon.
On Saturdays, Francine put 100 tiny rollers in my mother’s hair, stuck her under the dryer and turned it on high. Then a quick comb-out and a blast of super-firm hairspray and Mum was done. Her hair, unmoved, weathered Arctic blasts, blizzards, gale-force winds and torrential rain.
Years later Mum had her hair “done” at Evelyn’s before she left Canada for my wedding in Australia. When she arrived in northern New South Wales the temperature had soared to a balmy 44 degrees. My bouquet of white roses turned brown and the maid of honour fell asleep on the buffet table. The MOTH (The Man of the House) helped a band of survivors set a new record for beers consumed in less than two hours. Mum, buoyed by a gin and tonic or two (more ice, please), sat regally through it all with not a grey hair out of place. The Queen would have approved. So, I think, would Sam.