A Good Tidy-Up (To Meet The Parents) : Chapter 12

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“Come on mum, we don’t want to be late!”

Sarah was fretting. She didn’t want to be late for her latest appointment with Maureen, but that  wasn’t the real cause of her anxiety. She was much more concerned about the fact that she would be seeing Steve for the first time in several days, and indeed the first time since Maureen had cropped and permed her hair, turning her into a prim and conservative little poodle. Even though Steve had said that he would love to see her wear her hair in a nice short bubblecut, she worried about what he would think when he actually saw it.

She was well aware that whilst her hair was extremely neat, tidy and practical, it did make her look rather plain and homely. All her previous boyfriends had loved her long hair, the longer the better, and would have had a fit if she had come back from the hairdressers with her ears and collar on show, never mind with a short tight curly perm! Sarah glanced in the hall mirror and found herself wondering whether Steve would really want to be seen with a girlfriend who undoubtedly looked smart and respectable, but not remotely trendy or fashionable?

Of course, he wasn’t going to be seeing her hair like this; she knew that she would be leaving Maureen’s with a proper, traditional shampoo and set that would make her look very smart and rather conservative. Once again, this was at Steve’s request, to make the best possible impression with his family, but she still worried whether he would find her attractive with such an old-fashioned hairstyle.

Truth be told, Sarah had been getting increasingly nervous since yesterday afternoon, when she had started to think about Saturday. This hadn’t been helped by the atmosphere at work on Friday, where most of her colleagues were at least a little apprehensive about the staff appraisals coming up for many of them next week, especially with rumours of upcoming redundancies. Sophie, in particular, was in a complete quandary. She was going to visit her parents for the weekend, and knew that her Dad would be keen to know how her job was going, and whether she was likely to be promoted soon. Of course, her career prospects very much relied upon persuading Wendy that she had fully embraced the dress code, and would continue to do so. If she mentioned this to her parents though, she knew she would be lectured for putting her vanity ahead of her job.

Even if she didn’t say anything, her mother would no doubt continue her long-running campaign to persuade Sophie to have her long hair cut off into a short, smart and presentable style. She was especially keen to have Sophie looking like a respectable and dutiful daughter at her 40th Wedding Anniversary party next year. As far as she was concerned though, a sensible haircut was already long overdue, so for months now she had been ‘suggesting’ that Sophie accompany her to the hairdressers’. She was quietly confident that when Sophie eventually gave in and went with her, the long hair would quickly end up on the salon floor, and Sophie would leave wearing a hairstyle that met her mother’s approval.

Sophie was well aware of these plans, and knew that if she came clean about her dress code ‘issues’, and admitted that the biggest problem was her hair, then she might find herself unable to escape the often-threatened visit to her mother’s hair salon. So, she would just have to keep quiet about her work issues, assure her parents that everything was fine, and placate her mother by keeping her long hair as tidy as possible.

This was all very well, but she would also have to work out how to put her hair up neatly and out of her face, in order to satisfy Wendy, by Monday morning. The best idea she had was to try to scrape it all back into a bun, and use loads of hairspray to keep all of her troublesome short layers in place. She was going to give that a trial run when she got home, and hope that it stayed put through the evening. Most of her didn’t want to think about what would happen if it didn’t stay up, but a small part of her brain was telling her that maybe she did just need to grow up a little bit, lose some of her vanity and, yes, stubbornness, and do something that would both make her mum happy, and make her own life so much easier.

There was no such small voice in Maria’s brain though. Knowing that Wendy had taken the day off, she had strutted into the office in her usual strappy 4-inch heels, short, tight skirt and a full face of makeup. She had no idea what she was going to do on Monday, but she was meeting her boyfriend, Andy, for lunch today, and there was no way she was going to let him see her bare-faced, and looking like an old maid in flats and a frumpy long skirt! She just wished that she hadn’t given in and cut her nails the day before. She had painted them bright red again last night, and tried to shape them the best she could, but it wasn’t the same. It’s not like Wendy had even appreciated her toned-down look; she still had a go at her and Sophie. Well, Wendy was a problem that could be put off until Monday. Today, she was just going to make sure that she kept her boyfriend happy by looking as sexy as possible.

It was perfectly obvious that Maria had her head stuck firmly in the sand, and didn’t want to talk about appraisals, dress codes, or work-appropriate hairstyles, but Sarah and Sophie had had a brief conversation during their tea break. Sophie had confided her bun-and-hairspray plan, and explained her mother’s repeated efforts to drag her down to the hairdressers’.

“My Mum really doesn’t like long hair. She always thinks it looks scruffy. She’ll tolerate it on little girls, if it’s in plaits or something, but would far rather it was kept short, and thinks that long hair on adults is just vain and frivolous.“

“I take it that you always had short hair when you were younger then?”

“Oh yes, Mum would never let me have it long. I had a bob and a fringe when I was little. I remember Mum would sit me up on a kitchen stool after a hairwash and just snip straight across with her big dressmaking scissors. I hated having the fringe cut because the bits would get in my eyes! She’d always say something like ‘There! Don’t you look like a nice smart girl now that we can see your face!” My fringe was never straight, either, but if I said anything, she’d just say it was because I wriggled too much.

“Then when I was a teenager and wouldn’t sit still for her, she marched me down to her hairdressers’ and had it cut into a really plain, unfashionable, short layered cut. Basically a girls’ version of a short back and sides, which I hated. She loved it though, and made me keep it like that for ages. As soon as it got anywhere near my eyes I’d be back in the chair to have it cut again. Of course, the hairdresser always did what Mum wanted and told me how lovely and smart I looked. I always had the shortest hair of all the girls in my class. I guess that’s why I was so keen to finally grow my hair when I left home. Mum hates it, of course, even more so since I had it highlighted, and layered so I can’t even put it up. She’s always on at me to go to the hairdressers’ with her to have it ‘tidied up’, and tells me how much smarter I’d look with a nice neat little bob like hers.”

“So it doesn’t sound like she’d be that impressed even if you do manage to get your hair to stay up?”

“No, I don’t think so. She’d probably ask how long I’d had to spend doing it, and point out how much easier it would be if I just had it cut short.” Sophie frowned. “She’s right, I suppose. Short hair would be a lot less trouble all round, but I just don’t know if I’m ready to give up on having long hair just yet.”

“Well,” Sarah replied, pragmatically, “If you can get it to stay up, and stay tidy, then that will keep Wendy happy, and you can worry about your mum later. And if you can’t……. Well, at least you know you’ll be making your mum happy!”

Sophie had smiled uncertainly at this. She supposed that the point Sarah was making was true enough; if she couldn’t keep her long hair tidy then she would have to swallow her pride and allow herself to be given a sensible short cut. Wendy didn’t seem to be in any mood to back down, and if push came to shove, Sophie knew that she wasn’t prepared to risk her career prospects over her hair. She wasn’t quite ready to give up yet though, and was still hopeful that with enough hairgrips and spray she could manage to hang on to her long locks, whilst still keeping her boss, if not her mum, happy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah, still waiting for her mum to come downstairs, reflected that at least she didn’t have those worries. She knew that both Wendy and her mum were very happy with her tight little perm. She was however, still apprehensive about being given a formal, traditional shampoo and set, and both her own, and Steve’s reaction to it. Would it make her look even more prim and conservative? How would she feel about it? And what if Steve hated it? Or what if he loved it, but she didn’t?

She was also worrying about Steve’s sister Tina. She had agreed to a ‘trim’ and to have her hair ‘done properly’, but what if she ended up unhappy with the amount of hair removed, or the style that her mother dictated? And what if she blamed Sarah for this? After all, if Sarah hadn’t agreed to Steve’s request to have her hair cropped and permed, then Tina might not have felt pressured into having her own hair done. Sarah very much wanted to be friends with Tina, and hoped that this wouldn’t create friction between them.

Finally, Sheila came down the stairs. Maureen had been very happy to make her an appointment at the same time as Sarah, reasoning that if mother and daughter were there together, there was a better chance of retaining them both as regular clients. For her, two heads were better than one, especially if they were tightly rollered and sat underneath one of her dryers every week!

Like Sarah, Sheila was wearing a long pleated skirt, and a smart, buttoned-up blouse. It was a warm day, but Sheila was insistent that a lady shouldn’t be seen bare-legged in public, and had made Sarah put on a pair of her thick opaque tan tights. Sheila’s hair was as carefully styled and thoroughly sprayed as ever. She had felt it was important to look her best, and show Maureen that she liked to have a smart, presentable hairstyle. In contrast, Sarah’s short, tight permed curls had simply received a few quick licks with a brush, and had dropped perfectly back into shape. Over the last few days, she had come to appreciate the ease and simplicity of wearing her hair in a neat little poodle cut, and could hardly believe how much time she used to spend styling her hair each day. She looked over to her mother and smiled, mischievously.

“Time to go and get you nice and curly!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah opened the salon door and ushered her mother through. The salon was much busier than on any of her previous visits, with two of the four hood dryers occupied and two more ladies sitting in chairs having their rollers removed. The bell on the door jangled as they came in, and Maureen looked up at them.

“Hello Sarah, hello Mrs. Eavis. Take a seat and I’ll be right with you.”

Sarah was completely at home in the salon, perhaps unsurprisingly, as this was her fourth visit in just a few days! Sheila, on the other hand, was quite nervous. She hadn’t had a shampoo and set for years, having stopped because she worried that she would be thought rather old-fashioned. Her usual hairdresser’s was also much more modern than this one, and she was a little concerned that when she stepped out of Maureen’s chair, she might look more like her mother than she wanted to.

She didn’t have too long to get worked up though, as the two ladies ahead of them were finished off, and Maureen ushered them into the vacated chairs.

“Now then Sarah. I know you need to look as smart as possible for your function today, so I’m going to give you a nice firm set, and a more formal style than last time. You might think that sounds more suitable for a mature lady, but I’m sure that it will really impress Grandma.”

“That sounds lovely,” replied Sarah, “Steve did suggest that the most appropriate thing would be to have my hair set so that I look smart and conservative, but nothing fancy, just nice and plain and homely.”

Sheila quietly raised her eyebrows at this. She could still hardly believe that her formerly sassy and trendy daughter had volunteered for a sensible short haircut, never mind a perm, and had agreed to swap all of her short skirts and revealing tops for a smart, conservative wardrobe. But here she was, actually asking a traditional ladies hairdresser to make sure that she looked even more plain and homely!

“That’s no problem at all, dear.” Maureen replied. “With your hair being so short, a nice plain and modest little head of curls is much the best thing for you.”

Sarah reflected that the only reason her hair was so short was because Maureen had taken it upon herself to cut it that way! Sarah had consented, of course, but without really knowing what Maureen had meant by ‘a good tidy up’. And once she had started, of course, there was no going back. Maureen turned to Sheila.

“And Mrs. Eavis, Sarah said that you were going to meet your mother for afternoon tea, so I expect that you want to look your best with a nice formal set.”

“Oh yes please,” butted in Sarah, “Nan said she really wanted to see you with a proper hairstyle. You know that she will have had hers set this morning, so it will be lovely for both of you to be looking really smart.”

Sheila realised that she didn’t have much choice in the face of Maureen’s obvious determination, and especially given Sarah’s example, she could hardly voice her concerns that she would end up looking like a little old lady! Quite apart from the fact that much of Maureen’s business was regular shampoo-and-sets, both Maureen and Audrey wore their own hair in neat and tidy little bouffants. She felt as though she had to say something though.

“It’s a long time since I had a proper shampoo and set.” She laughed nervously. “They seem to have rather gone out of fashion.” She stopped, hoping that she hadn’t caused offence.

“Well we don’t worry too much about keeping up with all the latest trends here.” Audrey seemed to be trying to reassure her. “It’s true we don’t get many customers as young as Sarah, but there are quite a few ladies of your generation, Mrs. Eavis, who still prefer a smart, traditional ladies hairstyle.”

The phone started ringing, and Maureen excused herself to answer it.

Sheila considered Audrey’s comments. Now she came to think about it, there were a few of her friends who were still very much wedded to their weekly or even twice-weekly shampoo and sets. She had assumed that this was either just force of habit, or perhaps (even at their age) a concession to family values and expectations. She remembered well that, whilst she had told everyone that her hair had been cut and permed after her wedding to make it easier to look after, it had largely been down to repeated suggestions from her mother that now she was a respectable married woman, she should have her hair styled appropriately. A few years later she had tried to grow her hair out again, but as soon as it had passed her collar, her mother had made her disapproval clear. She had seized the first opportunity (a cousin’s wedding) to insist on taking Sheila to have it cut up short and tidy, so that she looked ‘respectable’ and didn’t ‘show the family up’. After that, Sheila had decided that it was easier to avoid arguments, and kept her hair cut to a length she knew her mother would approve of.

Audrey’s remarks made her wonder though. Did those friends keep their hair neatly set from habit or family pressure, or did they genuinely prefer it? There was, perhaps, something to be said for always looking one’s best, and a good shampoo and set certainly achieved that, with, she suspected, less day-to-day effort that her current style required. She resolved to keep an open mind and allow Audrey to do what she thought best.

“Well, that’s very true.” She paused. “Some of my friends do keep their hair in more traditional styles, and I know that Mother would love to see me in one too. So yes, please give me a nice smart, formal set that we can both be proud of.”

“That’s no problem at all Mrs. Eavis. We’ll just get this washed for you, and then we can get you looking really smart and presentable, and make sure your mother will be happy.”

“Of course,” put in Sarah, mischievously, “Nan won’t really be happy until you’ve got a nice tight little poodle perm like hers. And mine, of course!” She patted her own head of springy curls and smiled.

“Oh yes,” exclaimed Audrey. “Matching mother-daughter perms would be delightful!”

“Now, let’s not get carried away,” put in Sheila hastily. Despite her earlier resolution, she still wasn’t sure how she’d react to being given an old-fashioned formal shampoo and set, but at least that would wash out easily enough. She turned to Sarah, trying to nip this in the bud.

“I’m only here for a wash and set. Look how busy it is here, you can’t expect them to just drop everything and give me a perm.” She frowned at Sarah.

Sarah did her best to look contrite, though she didn’t really feel it. After all the times that Sheila had tried to persuade her into a sensible short haircut, Sarah felt entitled to do a little persuading of her own, now that the boot was on the other foot.

Maureen came back from the phone. “Bad news, I’m afraid, “she said, turning to Audrey. “That was Mrs. Collins, your nine o’clock. She’s had to cancel, she’s come down with the flu.”

“Oh no! I hope she’s feeling better soon.” She paused. “Still, every cloud has a silver lining, they say. That means that I can do your perm today after all, Mrs. Eavis. We can have you and Sarah in matching little bubblecuts when you leave. Won’t that be a lovely surprise for your mum, when you see her?”

“Um, well, er,” Sheila spluttered. She really didn’t like the direction this was taking, but didn’t know how to head it off without causing offence. Audrey smiled politely at her.

“Go on Mum.” Sarah urged. “You know how happy Nan will be that you’ve finally had a perm. And if I can do it, then I’m sure you can!”

Sheila gave in. Sarah was right; her mother had made it very clear that she would love to have all three of them in matching hairstyles, and if her young, trendy twenty-something daughter could embrace a short tight perm, and a formal shampoo and set, then surely she, as a respectable middle-aged lady, could do the same.

“All right.” She smiled faintly. “Matching bubblecuts it is.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“There you go Mrs. Eavis, I’ve taken all your layers down nice and short, so we can get your curls lovely and tight, just like Sarah’s.”

Audrey had wasted no time in getting Sheila into her chair, caped up and hair washed, and had very happily started to crop her fussy longer layers down to a uniform two inches, to match Sarah’s. Sheila, thinking that her hair wasn’t very long to start with, had been a little alarmed to see the length of some of the pieces of hair that were coming off, but had sensibly realised that she simply had to trust Audrey and had kept her misgivings to herself.

“Maureen, you used the smallest perm rods on Sarah, didn’t you? Would you mind getting some out for me?” “Yes, no problem.” Maureen bustled over to the supply cupboard and over to Audrey. “And a hard to curl perm kit, the same as Sarah. We want to make sure that your curls are just as tight as hers!”

Sheila gulped nervously at this while Sarah smiled to herself. When she was younger, Sarah had often had to endure hairdressers cutting her hair much shorter than she wanted, under her mother’s strict instructions, and was enjoying herself now that their situations were reversed.

Audrey started to wind the tiny perm rods into Sheila’s short-cropped tresses, and Maureen resumed where she had left off, rolling Sarah’s freshly shampooed curls onto her smallest rollers. Sarah was now familiar with the routine, and was ready for the scented setting lotion followed by a hairnet before being popped under one of the now free hood hairdryers. The lady who had just vacated the dryer was immediately sat in Maureen’s chair, and Maureen started to take her rollers out. Sarah was impressed with the efficiency. It was like a production line, obviously honed from long practice.

Maureen clearly knew exactly how her customer wanted her hair styled, or perhaps, Sarah mused from under the dryer, it was simply that Maureen felt that she knew what was best, and happily set about creating it. Before long, the rollers were out, the curls had been briskly combed out into a smooth, neat bouffant, and Maureen was handing over a plastic visor and giving her lady’s hair a heavy coat of lacquer.

“There you go Mrs. Travers. That’s you neat and tidy for another week.” Maureen helped her client with her coat, and ushered her to the door.

She came back over to the dryers and started to repeat the process with the next lady in line. Sheila, meanwhile, had been fully wound up on her rods, and submitted to the ritual wrapping of cotton wool and application of the perm solution. She had managed to keep herself calm by imagining the delighted reaction she would get from her mother and exchanging glances in the mirror with Sarah, who was doing her best to smile back reassuringly.

Sheila had by now accepted that she was going to be leaving the salon with a perfectly prim and proper, neat and tidy little head of curls, and that she was doing this because it would make her mother happy and proud. She was fully expecting that she would look less stylish, more unassuming, and probably older, though hopefully not quite a clone of her mother! She knew, though, that whatever she thought of them, her short tight curls would not be changing any time soon. In truth, she suspected that with her mother’s longstanding commitment, and her daughter’s newfound enthusiasm, she may find herself compelled to maintain her short bubblecut to match theirs. She allowed herself to wonder whether that might actually be a good thing; for many years her mother had pointed out how little fuss a nice short perm required, and she knew that she would at least always look neat, tidy and presentable, whether she had time to style her hair or not.

Before she knew it, Audrey was back to rinse off the perm solution, and apply the dreaded neutraliser. Sheila really hadn’t been looking forward to this. She knew that it would be both freezing cold and very smelly, and was precisely the reason that she hadn’t had her hair permed for the last 20 years! As Audrey squirted it on, she told herself that countless women had their hair permed all the time, and most of them didn’t make a fuss about it, so she would just have to put a brave face on and wait for the neutraliser to do its work.

She was pleasantly surprised that the smell wasn’t quite as bad as she remembered, and she even found herself getting excited at the prospect of having short, tight curly hair again. She had, after all, liked having permed hair; it was just the process she hadn’t enjoyed.

Sarah was now out from under the dryer, and Maureen was busily removing her little spiky rollers.

“Right then young lady, let’s get this combed out and you looking really smart!”

Sarah sat obediently while Maureen teased her tight curls together into a neat, plain, rounded helmet shape, handed Sarah the visor, and proceeded to coat her hair in the heavy, traditional lacquer she favoured for the way that it would keep her ladies’ hair in order for several days.

Sheila looked on as her daughter was given the kind of conservative style that her mother, Sarah’s Nan, would wear for ‘smart’ occasions, and indeed, had insisted on Sheila adopting a number of times, notably when they had had some professional family photographs taken a few years ago. The resulting group shot was proudly displayed in her mother’s living room, and looking at it always gave Sheila slightly mixed feelings. She knew that she looked really smart in the picture, and that her mother had been delighted to see her with her hair primly set and lacquered. She had actually kept the set in for a few days, initially to keep her mother happy, but had found that she had also rather liked the simplicity of not having to fuss with her hair every day. She had worried though, that other people would think that the style looked too unfashionable, even frumpy, and so had quickly reverted to her ‘safe’ option of blow drying her hair into a sleeker, more modern style every day in order to fit in with what she thought was expected from her.

Sarah, a teenager at the time, had of course refused to visit the hairdresser with her mother, despite repeated pleas from both Sheila and her Nan. There had been a big argument when Sheila got back from the hairdresser, having given Sarah strict instructions to get ready while she was out, put on the dress her Nan had bought her, and to have her hair tied back neatly. Sarah was instead wearing her new tight jeans and a strappy top, her long hair was even messier (to Sheila’s eyes) than normal, and her face was plastered with makeup.

Sarah was adamant that she wasn’t going to change for the photographs, but Sheila knew how much her mother had been looking forward to having these new family photos, and was determined that Sarah would at least look presentable in them. She decided that she was going to put her foot down for once.

“Don’t be ridiculous Sarah! You know that you need to look smart in the photographs. If you won’t wear the dress your Grandmother bought you, then you can just wear your school uniform. And I mean wear it properly – top button done up and tie neatly tied.”

Sheila glared hard at Sarah, who glared back.

“And since you’ll be in uniform,” Sheila continued, “Once I’ve got a comb through that mess, I’ll be putting it into some neat and tidy plaits.”

The thought of wearing her school uniform, long grey box-pleated skirt over thick wooly tights, collar and tie, and the green and yellow blazer she hated so much, to walk up the high street on a Saturday morning was bad enough. To also be told that she would have to sit still while her mother scraped her long hair out of her face, into a strict centre parting and painfully tight plaits, was too much for Sarah.

“No way!” She yelled back. “And I’m not wearing that silly little-girl dress either!”

“No dress? Well school uniform it is then. Come on, get those jeans off and your uniform on. I’ll go and fetch my brush and comb. I’ll see if I can find some ribbons to go on your plaits. I’m sure Nan will like that.” She looked pointedly at Sarah, eyebrows raised.

Sarah didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t sure if her mum would really go through with her threat, but she looked deadly serious (the immaculate suit she was wearing, and the stiff shampoo and set may well have helped Sheila here.) Sarah decided that she’d have to back down, and offered a compromise.

“I suppose I could wear the blue skirt and white blouse.” she muttered. This was Sarah’s usual mum-approved outfit which Sheila would insist on for formal occasions. Sarah thought that the long pleated skirt, and prim white blouse were far too frumpy for a girl her age, but it was, she supposed, better than her horrible school uniform or the frilly satin ‘party dress’ that her well-meaning, but terribly out of touch Nan had bought for her.

Sheila smiled.

“Thank you dear, your grandmother will really appreciate it. But I’m still going to have to do  something with your hair, you really can’t have it looking such a mess in the photos.”

Sarah quickly got changed, rolling her eyes as her mother insisted on tying her blouse’s bow neatly and tightly under her chin. She reluctantly sat down at her dressing table as Sheila, with a determined look in her eyes, picked up her comb.

“Just don’t put it in plaits, Mum. I’m not a little girl.”

Sheila said nothing, just started dragging her comb through her daughter’s unruly long hair, tutting over the knots and the straggly ends caused by Sarah’s refusal to visit the hairdresser except under extreme duress.

“Really Sarah, this hair is in such a state. Never mind having it cut, you don’t even brush it properly.” She glanced at her watch. “You can count yourself lucky we don’t have time, or I would be putting it in plaits, just to make it look tidy. You listen to me though, madam; if you don’t start looking after it, and keeping it tidy, then I’ll be taking you to the hairdressers for a proper haircut – nice and short, like you used to have it, so that it stays tidy and out of your face.”

Exasperated, she yanked her comb through the overgrown fringe which Sarah habitually allowed to hang over her face, at least partly to annoy her mother, her teachers and any other adults that were around. Sarah kept quiet. Her mum quite often made threats like this, pointing out how smart she looked in her old school photos, with the short pageboy cut she had hated so much, but she sounded more serious than usual this time, and Sarah didn’t want to risk antagonising her.

Sheila continued her assault on Sarah’s hair, forcing it into a neat side parting. She combed the long fringe firmly back out of her face, and started to pin it in place with a kirby grip.

“Hey! I don’t want anything in my hair, just leave it down.”

“I just told you, you need this hair out of your eyes, young lady. I want your Nan to be able to see your face. Shall I fetch my scissors and give you a proper fringe instead?”

Sarah looked at her in alarm. “No!”

“Hairgrips it is then.” Sheila replied, reasonably. She used two to make sure that Sarah’s fringe would stay put. She paused for a moment, then combed Sarah’s hair back on the other side, and pushed another grip in to secure it above her ear, despite Sarah’s scowl.

“Just to make sure it all stays out of your face. Now, just for this morning, please can you go and wash your face. You know how your Nan feels about you wearing so much makeup.”

Sarah started to object, but Sheila cut her off with a gesture.

“Please, Sarah. It would mean so much to your Nan. A bit of soap and water for once won’t do you any harm. Now go on, and do it properly please. Unless you want me to do it for you?”

Sarah wasn’t at all happy about this, but knew from past experience that her mother was quite capable, in this mood, of carrying out her threat. She went to wash her face, muttering under her breath.

Sarah’s hair may have been neatly pulled back from her face in the photographs, but her smile was less than convincing, and as soon as the photographer was done she had stormed off, yanking the grips from her hair. She slipped back quietly a few minutes later, her fringe back in her eyes, lipstick on and her blouse untucked. Nan had been quietly disappointed at both Sarah’s appearance and behaviour, but when Sheila spoke to her that evening, the stroppy teenager just shrugged, and wouldn’t talk to her. Sheila had eventually dragged Sarah to the hairdressers a few weeks later, but she stubbornly refused to allow anything more than having the very ends trimmed, and despite Sheila’s insistence that her hair was styled out of her face, it was back over her eyes by the time they got home.

Whilst Sheila realised that Sarah had grown up considerably since her teenage days, memories like these made it even more surprising that her normally fashion-conscious daughter had not only requested the kind of hairstyle that her mother had begged her to wear just a few years before, but was actually smiling in the mirror as Maureen applied the finishing touches. Perhaps Sarah was more grown up than Sheila gave her credit for, and was simply more willing than her mother had been to embrace the convenience of a plain and conservative style, without worrying about what everyone else would think. If so, then perhaps, Sheila thought, she should adopt the same attitude, and do her best to enjoy the benefits of her tight perm and prim little set, even if she thought (or more to the point worried that others thought) that it was unfashionable, and less than flattering.

In truth, though Sarah was smiling, she was still a bag of nerves inside. She was confident that Maureen had done her job well, and that her hair was exactly as Steve had said that he wanted to see it. She also felt sure that Barbara and Steve’s Grandma would approve. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it though. Looking in the mirror, she could see that she undoubtedly looked as smart and respectable as she had ever done. It was rather old-fashioned though, but perhaps that wasn’t such a terrible thing, Sarah thought. Her smile broadened as she realised what a huge change her attitude to her appearance had undergone. A week ago she would have been horrified about having a haircut which left her neck and ears on show, but here she was with the primmest, plainest, tightly permed and set helmet hairstyle imaginable, and thinking to herself that it wasn’t such a bad thing!

She decided that she would hold her head up high as she left the salon, and at the birthday dinner, and after that, well, the set would wash out if she wanted to, or she could keep it in if she preferred. She was determined that it would be her decision, not anyone else’s, though she might, in future, consider what Steve wanted, if he asked her really nicely……

Sheila by now had taken Sarah’s place under the dryer, her own cropped and permed tresses tightly wound on the same spiky rollers. She realised that Audrey was absolutely serious in her statement of ‘matching bubblecuts’ and that she was going to be given exactly the same primly-set style as her daughter. At least she could see Sarah’s first, and so know in advance how she was going to look. She examined Sarah from the corner of her eye and, happily, came to much the same conclusion: very smart, somewhat old-fashioned, but entirely suitable for the occasion, in her case, taking her mother out for afternoon tea.

A series of images came into her mind; leaving the salon with Sarah, sitting having tea with her mother, and finally the three of them strolling around the local park. In each of them, slightly to her surprise, she realised that the conservative shampoo and set she was wearing in these mental images, actually suited her rather well. It wasn’t at the forefront of fashion, certainly, but it did have a certain classical elegance, and went well with her wardrobe, which had always tended towards smart and formal. She decided that, as before, she’d keep her set in for a few days, at least, and see how she felt. And this time, she resolved, so wouldn’t worry about what other people thought so much. It was, of course, true that this time she didn’t have the option of returning to her ‘normal’ style; when she did finally wash the set out, she knew that she would be left with the very short, very tight perm which Audrey had been so keen to give her. It struck her that this might actually be less flattering and more aging than the primly lacquered set she was now getting, but she decided to leave those worries for another day. If she ended up as one of Audrey’s regular weekly shampoo and set ladies, then so be it.

Sarah, meanwhile, had been daydreaming in the corner. She was wondering whether Steve had kept his promise to his mother and had his hair cut for the birthday dinner, and if so, was it a proper smart cut, or just a little trim. She’d asked him on the phone the day before, but he’d dodged the question, and said she’d just have to wait and see. She decided that he certainly shouldn’t be getting away with anything less than a proper short back and sides, and that if he hadn’t had that done, then she’d be taking him to the barbers herself, at the first opportunity! She started imagining how he’d look, in his best suit, buttoned collar and tie, and his hair cut very short, into a perfectly neat and tidy short back and sides with a clean, straight side parting.

Part of her hoped that he’d had it cut already, so that he looked nice for his grandma’s birthday (and for her, of course), but part of her rather liked the idea of being the one who marched him down to a barbers and supervised whilst he was properly smartened up. She wondered whether there would be time before the dinner, or whether she would have to start looking for barbers that were open on Sundays.

Suddenly, she was brought back to the present and realised that her mother was standing in front of her, with an immaculate shampoo and set which she knew perfectly matched her own. Whilst Sarah had seen her mother with similar styles before, it hadn’t happened for a while, and she had never really paid much attention anyway. The teenage Sarah just thought it made her mum look plain and frumpy, and couldn’t understand why she would do it. The new, short-haired Sarah knew better. She knew that on both her mother and herself the smart, traditional style looked very conservative, but also very feminine. These qualities, along with modesty and gentleness now seemed natural for Sarah to want to portray. Not just because Steve had asked her to, but for herself. The change in her appearance started off by Maureen’s opportunistic and determined snipping had made a real change in her. She was now genuinely happy not to feel that she had to chase fashion, and always ensure that she looked up to the minute, and instead to be simply smart and conservative, with a perfectly prim shampoo and set. She smiled up at Sheila.

“Hello Mum. You look lovely, that really suits you!” Sarah’s obvious and genuine enthusiasm dispelled any lingering doubts that Sheila might have had. Audrey had earnestly enquired whether Sheila was happy, and had been assured that she was, but Sarah’s reaction sealed it. Sheila would embrace her new tight curls, and the world could think what it liked.

“Thank you dear. You do too, you know. I’m sure that Steve and his family will be thrilled to see how smart Maureen has made you look.

“I’ve paid for both of us. No don’t be silly dear, this is absolutely my treat. If you think of all the times I’ve wanted to have your hair done properly…. Anyway, we’re all done, so get your coat and we’ll get back home, so you can get changed.”  

 


 

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