Set In My Ways

Set In My Ways

Set in My Ways by Sean O’Hare

Chapter 1

“HaiRazors,” I thought to myself as I approached it down the small lane off the high street. It looked like the sort of place my friend Fiona would get her hair cut. Bright and fresh from the outside, and light and airy on the inside as I glanced through the windows.

It was rather a scary-sounding name for someone who had hung on to long hair for so many years. But Fiona’s hair, while still quite long, managed to always look fashionable and different, especially when she tried different types of colour. I finally plucked up the courage to ask her where she had her done and, before I changed my mind, rang up for an appointment.

I hadn’t actually visited a salon since I was much younger, when my mum would take me to her local salon and I would have my hair trimmed into its customary mid-length bob. Dead straight, and the slightly too short fringe which the hairdresser always insisted cutting to the same length despite my protests. She always made a little joke to my mum about me not wanting to see where I was going.

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I didn’t like going there. It was always full of old women – my mum’s age or even older – having their weekly shampoo and sets, or even perms. And the smell! My friends were allowed to grow their hair long, but not I. Some even had fashionable layered styles, which were not entirely to my liking but did make them look older.

As I approached my mid-teens I decided to make a stand and announced on the morning of one of these six weekly appointments that I would not be going and would be growing my hair longer. This was met with some resistance from my mum. The appointment had been made, after all. But I held out, although every six weeks the subject was raised again as my hair grew longer. I genuinely felt she couldn’t understand why I just wanted to grow it longer and longer, and have to tie it back in a ponytail for school or whatever. Neither could I sometimes, but it made a change after so many years of identical hair, so I held out. Through school, through college, and now at work… just succumbing to an occasional trim of the ends from a willing friend.

But the time had come for a change to my dead straight, waist length hair – I had begun to feel a little dowdy alongside my fashionable colleagues such as Fiona. I didn’t want to go too short – some fashionable layers around the face, and a fringe perhaps. Fiona even suggested some coloured streaks. Well why not, I thought.

So here I was, about to enter HaiRazors. I was feeling a little nervous, but that was nothing to how I felt as I opened the door. A strange feeling came over me – a little like nausea although I didn’t feel ill as such. It may have been the unexpected smell – a chemical smell, similar to the salon I used to go to with mum. And there was me thinking times have moved on in the world of hairdressing. The room was sort of spinning – a little like being drunk. I willed it to stop and, as I shut the door, it did so and everything went back to normal. Well, sort of.

“Good morning, madam and what can we do for you today?” asked a rather old, but well presented woman. Not the sort of woman I would have expected to find working in these surroundings. Although as I looked around I noticed the surroundings weren’t quite as I would have expected either. More like mum’s salon of old, than the one Fiona had led me to believe she frequented… or even the one I thought I had observed as I approached.

I looked outside and everything seemed much the same, although my view wasn’t that clear. I didn’t remember the windows being so small, or even the curtains. This unsettled me a little.

“Er, hello, my name’s Jennifer Faulkner. I have an appointment -”

“Do you, do you indeed? Well not before time by the looks of you me dear. You’d better come and sit down over here and we’ll see what’s to be done for you.”

“Are you doing my hair? I though that, well, another woman would…”

I thought Fiona’s stylist would be younger than this. The name Emma didn’t seem quite appropriate to this oldish, rather plump, woman. And her rather formal, curly hair seemed a little out of place too.

“Well dearie, I’m Mrs. Clarke the and the only woman what works here so you ain’t got a lot of choice have you,” she said somewhat dismissively.

“I… OWW!” I shouted as Mrs. Clarke pulled a brush through my hair.

“Well, what do you expect if you allow your hair to grow so long. And wearing it loose likes this makes you look like a young child. Oh dearie, dearie me!”

“Well yes, you may be right. I was thinking of some layers perhaps. And a fringe. Something to make it look a little more fashionable. Something like my friend Fiona’s. She comes to you regularly I believe.”

“Fiona who? I don’t know many of my customers’ first names. Yes, well of course it will need to be layered. How would we be able to style it otherwise? My, you are a funny one and no mistake.”

“OK. And what do you think about colour. Fiona’s looks really nice…”

“Colour? What – you mean a tint do you? Why would you do that, I can’t even see a hint of grey. Or were you thinking of looking like Marilyn Monroe!” she chuckled. “No, I don’t think so. You’ve got a good few years before you need to tint it.”

“But I thought…”

“Now put your arms through here dear… yes, that’s right.”

I allowed myself to be covered by a ridiculous-looking flowery gown. And then watched in horror as I saw the hairdresser open a drawer in front of me and remove a large pair of scissors. “Don’t get to use these too often on women. Usually only when mothers bring their girls along for their first proper hairstyle. It’s many a fine young girl’s plait that these scissors have cut off, ribbons an’ all!”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t wear my hair in plaits as you can see and… HEY!”

“Makes no odds dearie, cuts through just as easily loose… there, see!”

I did! She was sawing through my hair like Christmas wrapping paper, and probably with less care. All the hair on one side was sliding down the cape. “What are you doing? No! STOP!”

“Now, now dearie, this is what I expect from young girls who are having their plaits cut off. It’s many a time I’ve had to get the mum or me hubby to give me a hand. I’m sure we don’t need to do that at your age do we?”

“No of course not… but, I don’t want it cut so short all round… and don’t you shampoo it first?”

“No sense in shampooing all this is there, when most of it’s coming off, dearie. Now hold still, nearly done,”

I had little choice. One of her plump hands was placed on my crown, securely holding me down, while I felt the other continue to saw through my hair. In the mirror I was shocked to see the scissors appear through my thick hair from behind. Surely she hadn’t cut it all the way around.

“Nearly done,” she said with a look of concentration upon her face. “There, that’s much better already,” she noted with grim satisfaction as she unceremoniously kicked my former waist-length hair under the counter. “Now, let’s get this shampooed.”

Before I was led to the backwash I noted my hair had been reduced to the length approved of by my mother all those years ago. It had all happened so quickly that I felt totally out of control of the situation.

As my hair was washed, I wondered what I should do. Well not much to do, I thought. Let her trim it into style, some layers around the face, and it should look fine. Well, different.

I was led back to the chair. My hair was all brushed backwards, and then all combed forwards. I then felt and heard the woman going to work on trimming the hair at the back. “Er, it won’t be too much shorter will it? I mean, if you can layer it a bit…”

“I will be cutting it all to a manageable length of course. I need to, otherwise it won’t keep its shape after I set it. I guess you don’t understand that do you, having always worn your hair in rats-tails – that’s what we used to call long hair worn loose like that when I was your age – rats-tails!” Rats-tails? Charming, I thought! Thinking back, my mum had used that term when I was growing mine out. What did this woman say before that, though? When she sets it?

“Look, I think there may have been…”

“Do you have a job?” she interrupted.

“Well yes I do actually. I’m a marketing consultant for one of the large banks.”

“Really. A secretary, I suppose you mean. What fancy names they give you these days,” she chuckled to herself.

“No, a marketing consultant,” I repeated, more than a little miffed. I thought assumptions like that had disappeared years ago, and it was a right pain hearing it from another woman.

“Yes of course, dearie. Of course you are.”

Through these inane discussions I had lost track of what she was doing. Damp hair still hung in front of my eyes but I could just make out that she was now lifting layers at my crown, matching them with hair she had already cut, and then snipping each layer off at about two inches long. What!

Before I could say anything she lifted my fringe and snipped that off to the same length. Just how short was the back?

Almost in answer she combed down the crown hair from a centre parting and began lifting and snipping. Quickly. Expertly I guessed. In no time at all the uniformity of the crown had been repeated at the side, with my ear barely covered. She moved to the other side and did exactly the same.

What had I said to inform her this was what I wanted? I run courses on effective communications for my team, but how had I managed to think one thing, and then end up with her cutting all my hair so short?

“I, er… what…” I stammered.

“There, that’s got that out of the way. Now we’ll get some rollers in and start you on the path to looking a pretty young thing.”

Rollers! Did she really say she was going to set it earlier?

I needed to be out of here, I realised. “Look, can’t you just blow dry it?”

As she combed it all through a few times, and I felt the comb run out of hair at around collar length behind. And then she suddenly burst out laughing. “Blow it dry? What like this!” And she puffed a few times. “You’re a rum one aren’t you, dearie. Just as well I know my job isn’t it. You stick to your job – making tea for your boss and looking pretty,” she chuckled without a hint of political incorrectness.

“Look I really don’t think…”

But even as I started to speak her nimble fingers were picking up plastic rollers, lifting a section of hair, skillfully rolling my hair around them, and then pinning them into place. It was as if she did this all day. Surely rollers weren’t used any more? Well not in the up-market salons. The sort of salon I thought Fiona went to. I was speechless. Lost for words. If only my team could hear me now… or not hear me… they wouldn’t believe it.

I couldn’t believe how quickly my head had become a mass of multi-coloured rollers.

“Miss Faulkner!” she was almost shouting at me, bringing me out of my daydreams. “If you would like to come over to the drier.”

I got up and walked over to where she indicated and sat down, almost without thinking. She lowered the hood, turned a dial and I felt warmth surrounding my head.

“I’m going to make a brew, dearie. Would you like a cuppa?” she shouted above the noise of the drier.

Why not, I thought. I nodded. And banged my head on the unfamiliar drier. She adjusted it again, gave me a few magazines and left.

I started to absently leaf through one of the magazines, vaguely aware of voices out the back. A man’s voice. Her hubby, she mentioned earlier?

I looked at my watch and saw that it was approaching the time I should have been meeting Fiona. Although I had taken the day off, we had agreed to meet for lunch so she could be the first to see the transformation her stylist had given me. I was more than a little keen to have a word with Fiona.

The content of the magazine surprised me. I flipped to the cover and noted the date. It was years old. I would have thought it would have crumbled away by now but it looked fresh off the press. The whole ambience of this place seemed so old-fashioned, I couldn’t imagine why Fiona came here. And how she always got such a great cut after my recent experience.

The heat from the drier was quite soothing and I must have dropped off as I awoke to find Mrs Clarke gently shaking my arm. “Ah, you’ve let your tea get cold. What a shame. Nothing like a good cuppa. Shall we get you brushed out then, dearie?”

What choice did I have now? I returned to the seat in front of the mirror and, with those same nimble fingers, the rollers were quickly removed. I watched, amazed, as I saw my head was now covered by a mass of large curls. Picking up a hairbrush, she briskly pulled it through my hair and the curls to some extent blended together but steadfastly maintained their overall shape and fullness.

“Oh yes, you have lovely strong hair, dearie. I thought you might need a perm – perhaps next time – but it will look very smart once I’ve finished. A little bit of backcombing through the front I expect.”

Backcombing? This was so bizarre I thought. But true to her word, she combed and teased my hair into what you could only call a helmet, balanced on top of my head. In the past I had giggled at such looks on older women. How was she going to turn this into something half reasonable before I leave?

She took a can of hairspray and began to lock the structure into place. I then realised that she had finished. This was how she expected me to leave. To confirm this she untied the flowery gown and pulled it away with a flourish.

Gone was the side parted hair that clung closely to the shape of my head, flowed onto my shoulders and then down my back. Replaced by this pile of curls, which rose away from my forehead, high above my head and curled over my ears.

Smiling, she held up a mirror so I could survey the back. “Oh yes, that is very smart. A very professional look for a working girl. Now you look most efficient. I’m sure your boss will be very pleased.”

I looked in astonishment at the ridges of curls descending from my crown and finishing just over my collar.

I realised that I no longer looked as if I was fifteen with my long hair… I now looked fifty, or even older. I would look ridiculous back in the office. I could imagine them sniggering behind my back and calling me Margaret Thatcher… or worse.

“It may take a little getting used to after all that ridiculous long hair. Now, I suggest you come in each week for a set, and I’ll keep it trimmed for you as necessary. If you get it wet between visits you may need to set it yourself to keep the curls in. You’ll soon get the hang of it.”

Weekly visits? Curling it myself? She asked for payment and I handed over a note. She looked at in surprise and mumbled something about it being “Hmmm, Scottish I suppose.”

I grabbed the change – rather a lot of it I thought – and threw it into my bag as I made my way out. I glanced at my watch, realising I was late to meet Fiona.

“Goodbye then Miss Faulkner. See you next week.”

“What? Oh, yes, thank you…” I said absently as I walked back onto the street.

Hurrying along, I glanced back and noted that the salon did look OK from the outside. Rather different actually… even the curtains weren’t visible.

Chapter 2

“Jenny! Oh yes, very funny,” said Fiona, almost choking on her wine. She poured a glass for me as I sat down. “A wig? I guess you chickened out then.”

“No, I went. Can’t you see?”

“Oh really? Well I can’t see with that wig on can I. A good joke, but a shame to have messed up Emma’s work. OK let’s have a look then.”

I took a large gulp of my wine. “No, this is it. This IS Emma’s work!”

“What?” Fiona looked genuinely surprised, and dismayed. “Oh I see. Well it looks… well…”

“Yes, awful. I know it does.” I took another gulp of wine.

“Emma did that? Why did you ask her to cut it so short, and so, well, old fashioned?” Fiona fingered her own artfully cut layers that surrounded her face and, thinking what she was doing, left them alone. “Well, I guess it is, er….”

“Old fashioned!” I agreed. “I’m surprised she can even cut hair as well as she does yours. She seems to be in some sort of timewarp.”


“Well Mrs Clarke. That’s her name isn’t it?”

“Well I always call her Emma. Look, we’re friends right?” I nodded. “Well, I don’t think you should come in to work looking like that. It’s just my opinion but, well, I think you’ll lose some credibility.”

I nodded again. “But what am I going to do?” I felt my eyes moisten a little.

“Go back and insist that she sorts it out to your liking. You could even ask someone else to do it. There’s another good stylist there – Pat – she’s done my hair a few times but she normally works in the other part of the salon. Out the back. Just walk through. Don’t worry about Emma – not if she’s done that to you.”

I nodded. It seemed like a good plan. But didn’t Emma say she was the only woman there?

“Are you sure something can be done?”

“Well, it’s quite short but a bit of artful styling could make it look stunning. You have the features for short hair. Come on, Jenny, be assertive. That’s what you tell us!”

And she was right of course. “Thanks, I will. Well as soon as we’ve finished this bottle and had something to eat.”

“Yeah, that’s the spirit Jenny. You show her who’s the boss.”

We clinked glasses and started gossiping, although I couldn’t help but notice that all men’s eyes were now reserved for her alone, rather than being split between us. Perhaps they thought I was her mother.

Chapter 3

For the second time that day I walked apprehensively down the side street and took in the bright look of the salon’s features. I opened the door and walked in, briefly experiencing that nauseous feeling once more. There was no one there.

I resisted the temptation to call out and walked slowly to the back of the salon as Fiona suggested, and saw a door into the rear of the salon. Looking through, it looked much more like the type of salon I had expected when I looked in the windows from the street. My confidence increased as I stepped down the couple of stairs into the room. And the feeling of giddiness returned – much stronger – much more like the first time I had entered the salon. Must have been the lunchtime wine, I thought to myself.

I almost stumbled. As I regained my footing I looked around. That’s strange I thought. It does look bright and clean, but somehow not quite what I thought I had seen.

“Hello Miss. And what can I do for you this afternoon. The ladies’ salon is back there, although she’s popped out to the shops at the moment.”

“Well I was told if I came back here, someone might be able to do something about this,” I said, pointing to the rigid helmet of hair, that even the stiff breeze down the side street had failed to dislodge. And then the light bulb came on. “Are you Pat?”

“Well, Patrick actually. Although most of my customers call me Mr…”

“Excellent. Then you know my friend Fiona, she says you do a great job.”

“Really? Fiona you say? A woman?” He looked rather puzzled. “Well, you’d better come and sit down.”

What a strange chair I thought as I settled into the cool but soft leather. Even stranger as I started rising upwards, my feet leaving the floor, and my hair closely followed by my head appearing in the mirror before me.

“Well Miss, look are you sure? I don’t usually cut…”

“Yes I’m quite sure thanks.” I sat there expectantly as he covered me with a large white cape and waited for him to suggest some options for remedial action.

“Very well.” He reached over to remove something from a hook by the mirror. I didn’t see what it was as his great mitt of a hand almost enveloped it.

I saw in the mirror his other paw approaching my head, where he laid it and eased my head forward. At the same time I heard a strange buzzing sound.

And then I felt a coolness on my neck, as if of cold metal. Vibrating cold metal. What WAS he doing? I tried to move but his hand seemed to be holding me rigid. I felt the metal begin to slide up my neck. And then the tone of the buzzing changed for a while – slower, deeper – before rising again like the sound of a racing engine. I felt cool air around my neck.

“What are… just exactly…” I stuttered, as I felt the feeling the strange sensation on my neck once more.

“Now Miss, stop squirming about. This is what I expect from young boys when they come for their first haircut. It’s many a time I’ve had to get the dad or even my wife to provide a restraining hand. I’m sure we don’t expect that from you do we now?”

“No of course not. I…” And I was suddenly hit by a strong feeling of déjà-vu.

The sensation along my neck continued and I was shocked to see some of my curls tumbling down into my lap. What was he doing?

I soon saw. He moved to one side, and then firmly pushed my head the other way. The men’s hair clippers that must have been used on the back of my head were now gliding up the side of my head. And more curls fell to the cape, bounced and ended up on the floor.

“What are you doing?” I finally managed to ask as he moved to the other side.

“Short back and sides of course, Miss. What do you expect from a barber?” he chuckled. “Now what are we going to do with all these funny curls on top I wonder?” he said thoughtfully.

He wet a comb under the tap and dragged it through the remaining hair on my crown until it lay flat. With the comb he forced a parting down one side, and then slicked the remaining longer hair straight back. He grunted approvingly, and picked up his scissors and began to snip away my hair close to the scalp at the sides. Then running the comb upwards at the back, he ran the scissors over the top of them and small snippets of hair flew all over the place.

He reached over to a small jar and took out a dollop of cream, which he smeared over my head, combing back the longer hair on top until it shone like glass. He smoothed the back and sides – they shone but that seemed to scalp shining through as much as the hair, as it was clippered so short.

Smiling, he held up a mirror so I could survey the back. “Well, that’s very neat don’t you think. My wife often says to me, ‘Mr. Clarke, they ought to call you Mr. Short Back and Sides, as you always do it so neat.'”

Mr Clarke, I thought? But my attention was grabbed as I looked in astonishment at the back of my head. It was almost shaved. From hairline to the crown. My white scalp shone through.

I realised that I no longer looked as if I was fifty-year-old woman… I now looked like a fifty-year-old man. What would they call me in the office now?

“Well, it’s an unusual style for a woman. It does look quite striking though. Now, I suggest you come in every three weeks to keep it looking neat. Here, take this small tub of Brylcreem to keep it looking sleek.”

Brylcreem? Having it cut every three weeks? He asked for payment and, without thinking I handed over a note and grabbed the change.

“Goodbye then Miss. See you in three weeks.”

“What? Oh, yes, thank you…” I said absently as I rushed up the steps, through the outer salon, and almost ran into the street.

“Jennifer! What have you done now?” Fiona exclaimed as I bumped into her.

“Fiona! I, er…” I rambled, not really sure what to say.

“I thought I would come along to make sure you got on OK. I was quite surprised when I got here though. I forgot it was Monday and HaiRazors are closed today of course. Where have you been? Your hair its, well… it looks like you’ve been to a barbers!”

“No, well yes I have. In there!” I said pointing at the salon, feeling very confused.

“Er, Jenny, have you been working too hard. It’s shut. Look at the sign. There are no lights on or anything. Look through the windows – there’s no one there!”

I followed Fiona’s gaze. And I saw a plump woman and large man, arms around each other, with broad friendly smiles on their faces… and as they waved at me, I waved back.

The End

(c) Copyright 2000, Sean O’Hare. Comments welcome to [email protected]


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