Wednesday 16 January 2008

On hairdressers and not using real names

The flu is abating. These are probably famous last words but I am feeling vaguely human again. Helped, in huge part, by braving gale and flood to get to the hairdressers. ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Adrian. ‘You’ll get stranded. Phone up and reschedule.’ No way, mate. The one thing men never understand is that one’s entire mood is affected by the state of one’s hair. If I want to reinvent myself, up my game and so on, I’m never going to do it with hair like brambles (with a solid inch of roots to boot).
No, it was a case of ‘come hell or high water’ (and most definitely the latter). OK, so there was a pretty hairy bit when I had to negotiate through a river that had decided to veer across the road (avoiding the unfortunate car that had been abandoned with water up to its windows) but it was worth it, every heart-stopping second of it.
I love my hairdresser. I found him when we first moved to Somerset – then lost him when we moved out to wildest Exmoor (when there was absolutely NO point in having even vaguely decent hair – a woolly cap was the only way to go). On moving into town I decided it might be a blast to go back. I did wonder if he would still be there – he wasn’t exactly a spring chicken twelve years ago – but, oh yes, nothing changes in the world of…… Hmm, I shall learn my lesson and call him, let’s see - Barry.

Barry is a true phenomenon – and, if you go by looks alone, possibly the man least likely to be a hairdresser. Short, stocky, face crinkled like a walnut, clad in a black suit – he looks like he ought be to a Mafioso or a dodgy car dealer. He is also most definitely Not Gay.
‘Hey, baby…’ he drawled, as I came into the salon, ‘Looking goooood.’
Yes, I know, it sounds unbearably irritating and was one of the reasons I abandoned him on my Exmoor move. But, as one gets older, it becomes amusing rather than predatory and, by heck, he is darn good with hair. His tiny ‘salon’ is fabulous too – polished boards, the most VAST ornate gilded mirror and a stonking great chandelier dripping with crystal – totally oversized, a heck of a lot of style statement crammed into a small package (bit like Barry really).

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone talk about holidays in this place. It has the feel of a club and nine times out of ten, everyone will join in the same conversation – which can range from politics to art to cookery to local salacious gossip (the latter always the best bit). It’s not unknown to be handed a glass of champagne (quite free – no silly overpriced menus here) or for Barry to rush out yelling, ‘I need chocolate’ and come back dispensing Galaxy bars to everyone in sight.
This time I picked his brains on log burners and we had a bit of a gossip about the locals (see, how good am I? Not a name in sight): who had been thrown out for having a love-child; who might be having an affair; who might be selling up and who was spending an obscene amount of money doing up a house they will only use as a second home (grrrrr). Then we got into the juicy rumour that a certain ex-prime minister might be moving down to Exmoor. No, see, his name will not pass my lips – but it doesn’t take Brain of Britain to figure it out.
‘He wouldn’t last a minute,’ opined Barry. ‘They’d tear him apart.’
Maybe. Maybe not. I wouldn’t give much for his chances in Exford (capital of hunting) but elsewhere on the moor, they’re a pretty tolerant bunch. The major problem would be one of security. This isn’t the kind of place you can sink into obscurity. Everyone knows everyone’s business – usually before you know it yourself.
I have to say, the idea of his wife shopping for shabby chic in South Molton has a certain charm, but I can’t see it happening. Still, it’s a jolly thought, one to get us through the dark days of January. That, and my new hair which is shiny and glossy and flicks up fetchingly at the ends. Or as Barry said, with a twinkle and a wink, ‘Foxxxxy.’

PS - the pic is NOT my new hairstyle, nothing to do with Barry (who would doubtless sue if I suggested it was) - but one from many MANY moons ago.....

Sunday 13 January 2008

On resolving to reinvent myself - and soggy wallpaper

It’s tough to reinvent yourself when you’ve got flu. It’s also tough reinventing yourself when you live in the House of Doom. No, the builders still haven’t come. ‘Why are you surprised?’ says Verity. ‘They’re builders. Their job is not to come. Their job is to drive you to psychosis. Come to think of it, they’re probably getting paid a packet from the local psychotherapists.’ Maybe in Marylebone, but not down here matey. There was only one psychotherapist and we viewed her house. Why was she selling? ‘Not enough custom,’ she complained, ‘Down here, people either get drunk or top themselves if they get low.’ On Exmoor, if you go mad, you go mad alone.

The house isn’t helping. A drawer in the kitchen gave up the will to live and collapsed and then three others decided, lemming-like, to copy it. The cabinet doors thought this looked like a fun game and two dropped off. Copycats. Mysterious holes keep appearing in the walls. Strange stains erupt on the carpet (and not even sure it’s Asbo Jack this time). Huge drafts are blowing through the windows and up through the floors and in through the ill-fitting doors. The fluorescent light in the utility room has started flickering in best horror movie style.
The dehumidifier has been chugging away in an exhausted fashion and we have been frantically emptying it. How much water can one house generate? An entire reservoir, by the looks of it. So much, in fact, that as I was coming up the stairs from the front door I put my hand on the wall and my fingers sank into several inches of soggy wallpaper. I’m one of life’s natural pickers (scabs, peeling sunburnt skin, candlewax, I’m not fussy – if it’s loose, I’ll pick it) and so my fingers naturally tugged and two yards of molten wallpaper collapsed onto my head. Adrian was outside, talking to someone about beer (naturally) and, in the time it took him to debate the merits of Pale Ale over Porter, I had excavated almost the entire lower hallway. I also gained an insight into life in 1963 – as under three layers of thick wallpaper the walls had been lined in the Daily Express.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Adrian, choking on a miasma of dust and mould spores. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘Look at this,’ I said, trying to distract him. ‘There was a time when the Express didn’t talk about Princess Diana.’
He didn’t fall for it. ‘That wall’s going to collapse now. The wallpaper was the only thing holding it together.’
He had a point. We all walk Very Carefully up the stairs now as the slightest heavy clump of a boot sends another pile of dust and plaster cascading down.
Anyhow, getting off-point now. I have realised that, if we ever want to get this house sorted, it’s going to cost a darn sight more than our meagre savings. I am going to have to work MUCH more. Walker and my agent have vanished into the ether together and aren’t responding to emails. I bought two lottery tickets – on the basis that once in a while you have to give Fate a chance - but have somehow managed to lose both and am now convinced of course, that they were the ones that would have made our fortune. So I have to get back to work properly and Earn Money.

This, of course, would be easier had James not purloined my computer during the holidays. My desk is now piled high with notebooks covered in code, test-tube aliens blinking viciously and sweet wrappers. When I turn on my PC I find I the Northern Lights gleaming biliously at me. Every key makes zoo noises and my cursor is blinking yellow. A rash of weird icons litter my desktop and if I gaze out into space for more than ten seconds multi-coloured bubbles bounce mournfully over my screen. Nothing is sacred.
I write a feature on ‘creating a sanctuary in your home’ and laugh hollowly at myself telling people to ‘find a space that can be entirely your own.’ I don’t even have a desk of my own anymore. Hot-desking in your own home? It’s ridiculous.

Summoning the energy to do anything is virtually impossible. I can’t even be bothered to bitch about semi-famous people anymore. Who cares if newspaper columnists lie in print? That’s what all journalists do, right? Maybe that’s why I’m finding it so hard to get back into journalism – I’m sick of bending the truth, making things sound better or worse or wilder or madder than they really are. Maybe I need a new job altogether. Perhaps I could fill the natural void and become the Only Psychotherapist in the Village…. Then again, maybe not.
For the moment, my solution is to lie low, wrap up in a large blanket and sip sloe gin while watching episodes of Ugly Betty back-to-back and thanking my lucky stars I don’t work at a fashion magazine. Reinvention can wait until spring.