First-World Problems: The Salon Says ‘No’

shutterstock_216822649Soooooo, for the uninitiated, I have just lived through every black girl’s worst nightmare. My braids were looking more than a little past their sell-by date, so I decided to pull them all out and head down to the salon. It was Sunday afternoon and the salon is always completely empty by then – I mean who wants to spend a lovely, lazy afternoon trapped in the special kind of hell that is the salon?!

I’m aware that this description may seem a little foreign to a few of you. The few who know the salon as an idyllic oasis of calm where you can spend a few hours of quality ‘me’ time while you sip tea, nibble Digestives and flick through the latest copy of Hello. A mystical land where there are never more than three customers present at any one time, and a stylist for each client. A bit like Audrey’s in Coronation Street. How lovely.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the trauma of a trip to the hair salon to get your braids redone – especially on a Saturday – imagine a trip to the dentist. For a root canal. In every single tooth in your head. And then multiply by 10.

A trip to the salon to get your braids redone usually goes a little something like this:

  • If you have a regular 9 to 5, the only viable option is a Saturday (virtually all of them are closed on Sundays). This means the endurance test usually begins the night before, whereupon you must cancel all plans for the foreseeable future because you will be stuck in your lounge unravelling extensions until your biceps beg for mercy. Once you’ve conquered this part of the obstacle course, your next challenge is getting a comb through all that lovely, thick, tangled hair.
  • Having ripped most of it out, you must then wash what little remains on your head, which contracts to about a fifth of its length once wet. And then you have to stretch it all back out again with something people casually refer to as a ‘hairdryer’, but which in actual fact is an implement of torture more akin to a blowtorch with a rake attached to the end of it. By this point the sun is rising, and you can hear the faint sound of birdsong in the air.
  • After about two hours’ sleep, you sprint to the nearest salon to stake your place in line with all the other early birds in front of the shutters. Appointments, you say? Ha! These salons LAUGH in the face of such ridiculous, diplomatic suggestions! If you want appointments, go call Errol Douglas! (You are so tired and delusional that you actually call Errol Douglas. You discover that his award-winning salon is based in Belgravia and he would be more than happy to book you an appointment for a full head of single braids for £400. You get back in the queue.)
  • You are now condemned to spend the rest of the day (and probably most of the night) in salon hell. There are 10 people ahead of you (like, WTF – did they camp there or something?!?), and you will slowly die of starvation and thirst while you wait for them all to be pruned and preened for fear of losing your spot in the ever-growing queue.
  • Once it’s finally your turn – it’s usually around 4pm by now and you can kiss that dinner date goodbye – you will suffer the agony of being left every 5 minutes while your now exhausted hairdresser tends to some newcomer’s perm/weave/wash/trim or blow dry, and also sneaks in their snack break/tea break/Judge Judy break/just-nipping-to-the-bank break/toilet break/Jeremy Kyle break/just-popping-to-the-shops break/dinner break and any other conceivable break they can conjure up instead of actually finishing your hair.
  • By now it’s usually around 7.45pm, you have bags the size of potato sacks under your eyes, your stomach is gurgling like a sewer drain, and your braids are still only a quarter of the way there. Pretty soon, you’ll be hearing the faint sound of birdsong again.

And that’s on a good day. On a bad day, yesterday happens.

You see, I thought I’d figured out the system. I thought I was being sooooooooo clever. I thought I was being so clever that I didn’t even call and check to see what the situation was down there before I finished my Sunday lunch and merrily ripped out all my braids in one fell swoop. The kind of horror I described to you takes place on Saturdays. But I’ve managed to find a rare jewel of a salon that actually opens on Sundays. And it’s always empty on Sundays. Always.

Until yesterday, when it suddenly wasn’t. It seems the secret’s well and truly out and I arrived to find it full of grumpy, hungry ladies, who’d clearly been sitting there since 8am and were still waiting to be seen.

It was 3pm. The salon was closing at 6. There were only two hairdressers. And one of them turned to me with pity in her eyes and uttered those four, fateful words: “We can’t help you.”

I stood there blinking in horror and disbelief. My heart stopped beating as I considered a Monday morning commute with my hair scraped into three horns – the way my mum used to comb my hair for school. I seriously contemplated phoning in dead. And then I frantically called every contact in my address book until someone had mercy on me (C – bless you a thousand times. And thank God for crochet braids!)

I suddenly realised in that moment that, while I could probably just about go without my make-up, I could never go without my hair. To be honest, I was surprised at the strength of my reaction – the anxiety… the sweats… the feelings of betrayal… the fear and shame when faced with the prospect of leaving my hair ‘undone’… my murderous desires towards those waiting customers… The range of emotions – it was ridiculous! I mean it’s just hair, right?!

Except it’s not. It’s such a huge part of my identity that the idea of going to work without it done would be like going to work naked. I guess I’d never really appreciated how attached I am to it – which is crazy, considering it isn’t even mine. It’s always such an abject ball-ache that I sometimes forget to be grateful that I can still even afford to go to the salon to get it done (while I could never go so far as to call it a ‘treat’, in these times of austerity, it’s certainly a luxury) and, considering what I’ve put it through all these years, that I still have any hair left to do. And I’m so grateful that I have wonderful friends like C, who are ready and willing to stay up all night and help me out of a living hairmare at a moment’s notice, no questions asked. There was Sky on Demand, there was laughter, there was food and drink – it was best the salon in the world!

I think we may have gotten a little carried away with the Maley hair, though. It suits me, but it’s way out of my braided comfort zone. And wrestling it into a style this morning actually made me late for work, where I soon discovered that it’s impossible to creep into a room unnoticed with a barnet this big (cue much ooooh-ing and aaaah-ing and “Can-I-touch-it?”-ing). All feedback has been favourable – apart from one evil colleague who said I look like Davey Crockett’s racoon hat (thanks, L). But he is wrong. Today, I look like Diana Ross. And I feel fabulous. : D

(Written on March 30 2015)

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