Antonia parked the car along a road she sometimes parked in for work. She locked it and walked along to the hairdressers salon. This wasn’t a modern salon, with open windows like the one she went to to have her long hair highlighted, it was a more dated affair, however the paintwork was clean, and the net curtains were white. There were images in the window showing hairstyles worn by a previous generation.
Antonia opened the door, and walked in, the hairdresser, Susan was waiting for her. Susan was a woman perhaps between Mum’s and Antonia’s age, and whose brown hair was worn permed and set, like the style Mum usually had. Antonia asked for Susan to perm her hair the same way as her Gran had hers permed previously. “I remember your Gran, such a nice lady. She always had quite a severe perm, short and very tight. Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Antonia said it was, so without further ado Susan started removing the main bulk of her hair, before taking her off to be thoroughly washed. Susan returned her to the styling chair and taking her scissors again took Antonia’s hair down to about 1 ½ to 2 inches long all over. This removed the last of the highlights that Antonia had been having in her hair since she was 15. Susan wheeled over a trolley containing curlers of different colours and sizes, and selecting some small brick red ones, Susan created a small strip through the centre on Antonia’s head, and taking a tress about the same size in area as the curler, smartly curled Antonia’s hair down to her head, fixing the curler in place. Susan checked that Antonia was ok before continuing, taking the strip back towards the crown and then down the back of Antonia’s hair. Then Susan went to one side, running a strip of curlers at right angles to the first strip and once all that side had been totally put in curlers, she then did the other side.
Once all Antonia’s hair had been put in curlers, Susan dabbed some Vaseline round the perimeter of her hair, and round a strip of cotton wool on top of the Vaseline. Susan then picked up a bottle, and said “Right, young lady, let’s make you nice and curly”. Antonia beamed back. The first thing Antonia noticed was the unpleasant eggy smell, although she had been expecting this, as she had recently helped both her Mum, and Rob’s Mum when they did home perms. She hadn’t expected the icy coldness as the lotion worked its way to her scalp, and shortly after the warming as the perm started working. “I just need to put you under the dryer to get some heat to the perm so that it works better”, Susan remarked, ushering Antonia to a bank of old fashion hood hairdryers. “It will be quite warm, but it’s only 20 minutes”
After the 20 minutes had elapsed, a red faced Antonia was released from under her dryer, and Susan rinsed her hair before putting her back in the styling chair. Here Antonia’s hair was saturated in neutraliser, and Susan offered her a coffee as Antonia sat there for another 20 minutes while the neutraliser worked. Antonia was rinsed again, and Susan returned her to the chair so that she could smother her in setting lotion. Antonia was returned to the dryer again, this time for 40 minutes, so that her hair could dry thoroughly.
After this time, and another coffee, Antonia was removed and sat to wait for her hair to cool. As she sat there, Susan appeared behind her and pushing her head forward she said that she needed to tidy her neck. Antonia felt the familiar sensation of hand clippers being pushed over the bottom and sides of her neck and sideburns. “You didn’t seem surprised that I was using clippers on your hair” Susan remarked. “I had long hair when I first started school, and Mum found it difficult to keep it tidy, so on the first weekend, she borrowed Grandad’s hair clippers, and gave me a short back and sides, like she sometimes did Dad’s hair. Everyone was shocked at this at first, but I just accepted it. Mum used to do it every 3 weeks or so. Around November, there was a big bonfire party, so when Mum clipped my hair for that, she said that as it was special, she should shave me around the bottom as well. My next special shave came at Christmas, and then it was my birthday, then Easter and so on. I didn’t mind having clipped hair at all, in fact if I knew Mum was cutting my hair, I would rush home from school .When I was 9, Gran and Dad persuaded Mum to let me grow my hair, so she just left it. When it was long enough, Mum put it in rollers overnight perhaps half a dozen times, but I found them a bit uncomfortable to sleep in, so I just kept it straight after that. When I was 15, like the other girls in school, I started getting highlights.”
By this time, Susan had changed her clippers for a razor to tidy up Antonia’s neckline.
“You said you had a birthday between Christmas and Easter, so is it your birthday soon?” Antonia grinned. “This is my birthday treat, I’m 21 today.” Susan was taken aback by this.
Noticing Antonia’s engagement ring, Susan went on “what does your boyfriend think about you having your long girly hair cut off, and having an old fashioned perm like your gran?”
Antonia grinned again. “I will find out this afternoon, I am meeting him at 2.30”. Susan looked perplexed. “You have just done my wedding perm. We had worked out that I would go from being a girl to a woman on my 21st, so I thought I needed a grown up hairstyle too. Gran is no longer here, so I thought it would be a nice way to bring Gran to my wedding.”
Susan had started slowly and carefully removing the curlers, so as not to disturb the setting pattern, and once she was satisfied, without brushing out any of the curls, she gave Antonia a liberal spray of hairspray. Where the spray settled on Antonia’s neckline, she felt a stinging sensation, which soon cooled. Susan explained to Antonia what she had done to her hair. “To get the old fashioned look that your Gran has, I have curled the back and sides upwards. This naturally lifts the hairline, which as you have a long neck, really defines the style.” Antonia looked in the mirror. There was a definite expanse between her hairline and her collar. Her hair had formed tiny rolls which clung to her head. The biggest shock for Antonia was that her previous blonde hair was now a mousy brown, being her natural colour. Susan continued “you will need to set your hair overnight preferably on curlers to maintain the style. I know you said you hadn’t taken to overnight setting before, but you really must persevere to keep your perm looking nice.” Antonia explained that when her gran had gone, she had kept her old curlers, which were in differing sizes and colours, up to small rollers, which Gran had used just before her regular perms. Susan then explained that she would need perms 2 or 3 times a year if Antonia wanted to keep her hair this way. A second coat of spray and Antonia was declared done. When she paid, Antonia was pleased to notice that this hairstyle was considerably cheaper than the last set of highlights she had had.
Antonia walked outside and her first reaction was to look at her reflection in the shop window and have a good feel and her newly made over hair. Yes, it did make her look older, no, more grown up, but Antonia had really enjoyed this experience today. She got back to her car and her rear view mirror was used to inspect her hair again. “Oh my, that is very tight” she thought as she looked at the rolls that clung to the side of her head.
Antonia got home, Dad came out to the hall as she went in through the front door. Dad stood there, mouth agape as he got a first sight of his freshly permed daughter. “Oh my, that is a tight one love” he said. Mum came out from the kitchen, her hair that I had home permed for her last Thursday in rollers still from last night. “What have you done to your hair love?” She gasped.
“I’ve had it permed Mum. I went to the place where Gran used to have hers done. I asked her to do it like Gran had hers. Do you like it”
“It’s very nice Antonia, it’s just that I wasn’t expecting you to have all your long hair cut and tightly permed like this”
Just after lunch, I was dressed and Dad escorted me to the church. Rob was already standing nervously by the altar. I walked up the aisle, and I could see him look quizzically at my hair, just visible through my veil. Through the service he whispered to me “Your hair”. I whispered back, “I hope you don’t mind, I’ve had it cut and permed.” It wasn’t until we got into the car to take us to the reception that we were able to talk further. No, he didn’t mind me having a perm. He had always hoped that one day I would have curls like his Mum. He had first taken notice of me at school, when one day I had come into school with rollered waves in my hair. He said I would have been about 9. Shortly after his Dad had passed away, I had been roped in a few times to help his Mum do home perms on her hair, and he said how he liked to watch. I remember the first one I had helped her with, when, at one stage, his Mum looked at me and asked if I had ever thought about having my hair permed. I hadn’t, but it must have planted a subconscious thought in my head. Rob remembered this conversation too, and apparently he had been willing for me to have a perm then.
There was a great deal of interest in my new hair at the reception, not the least from Rob’s Mum. “We could do home perms together: I could do yours, you could do mine. I’ve always wanted a daughter so that I could make her all girly”
Around teatime, Rob and I made our excuses and made our way to our hotel by the airport, ready for our early flight to Spain the next day. Rob was able to inspect his newly permed wife properly for the first time, without an audience. “I need to put it in curlers ready for bed”, I explained, “I don’t want to mess it up in bed”. Rob sat and watched as I clumsily put my own hair in curlers for the first time. Did he mind me wearing curlers to bed? Apparently not.