Mum’s the word on my first wonderful memories of a salon
It’s a dark, wet and windy day in late November and I’m already on to my fifth client of the day, there are Christmas lights reflecting in the station mirrors and the low hum of soft conversations and hair dryers is drowning out the sound of the Agnes Obel Late Night Tales compilation playing in the background.
It’s a funny time of year. The regulars are in for their regular thing and the first timers are taking in the environment, watching the team create little pieces of genius and trying not to notice the odd local celeb who is happy in their own world ignoring their phones and laptops.
There is a mellow mood and a sense that everyone knows exactly what to do in a quiet, efficient way. Then, the calm is temporarily broken by a client who is considerably late and is apologetic and obviously distressed. Mark, a seasoned salon assistant and newly appointed technician smiles, eases the lady into her seat and suggests a coffee.
“I’ll be looking after your colour today, I’ve got your notes, so let’s get you a drink before we start and you can relax,” he tells her.
The calm is restored and the lady almost melts into her chair.
It’s just a normal Wednesday in a Belfast city hair salon. Outside, Brexit breathes its toxic breath, hurricane Diana is grounding flights and downing trees, Belfast city centre is feeling a little sorry for itself and the ubiquitous Christmas market will soon attract the once a year city revellers who will eventually turn our city hall into a daily stag and hen party.
The salon is now operating like a smooth machine, there is an air of activity but no urgency or panic and there is a lady beside me talking to her stylist: “I’ve never been to a fancy salon.”
Zara, her stylist, replies: “I’ve never worked in one.”
They both laugh and the lady shoots me a look. Zara winks. The lady could be my mum, in fact I’m reminded of her, and the salon she used to take me to when I was a young boy and maybe where I first got the taste for this atmosphere.
It was a brightly coloured brown and cream shelter from the storm in 1970s Belfast with loud laughter and overflowing ashtrays and endless cups of tea where I learned that women say bad things about the men they love — or not, as the case may be. It was a place that looked out over a grey cold world, yet I remember only happiness and a man in a very loud green shirt and scarf who wanted to know would I like a “wee perm” and, because I went so red, gave me diluted orange and Jammie Dodgers to compensate. My mum opens her purse to pay the man in the green shirt. “Oh you’ve been paid for love,” he says. My mum looks shocked. “Stan — wasn’t that his name, Katie?” My mum is red now, she checks her hair and pushes a pound note into Katie’s hand. We walk out on to High Street. “We’ll pop round to see your Da and maybe he’ ll take us for some chips.” My mum is quiet now but she’s smiling. Stan is waiting outside his work for us. “Who wants chips?” he says.
Zara is finishing her client. The salon is quiet now. John Lennon is singing Happy Christmas, the lady is smiling and delicately touching her hair, almost in disbelief. “Oh, I can’t believe it, it’s so lovely.” Jimmy, our salon director, walks past. “It takes years off you, I hope he’s taking you out to show it off,” he says. The lady beams: ‘Oh yes, I’ve been going to the same salon for years but I think they were a little tired of me so Stan, my husband, treated me to a voucher for here and I’m absolutely thrilled.”
Jimmy’s client, a middle aged man, quips: “Maybe I’ll get my missus a voucher and if that’s the reaction I’ll get...”
“Good idea,” I say. “Is your name Stan, by any chance?” ÷ Paul Stafford, 671 Lisburn Road, Belfast, tel: 9066 2554
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