Christine and Jonathan

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This is the latest episode in an ongoing story. It can be read on its own, but might make more sense if you’ve read the previous parts. These are available at:

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Christine looked herself up and down in the full-length mirror, and wondered when she was going to get used to this. Every time she thought that she had got used to looking prim and proper, she would suddenly be confronted with something that would shock her, and make her remember that just a few days ago she had been a ‘normal’ trendy student, in jeans and t-shirts, with her long straight hair half way down her back.

This time it was the sight of herself in the mirror, wearing the final outfit that her mother had chosen for her. This was the smartest of them all, consisting of a calf-length straight black skirt and a white cotton blouse, with a high ruffled collar, which came right up under her chin, forcing her to keep her head held up straight. The front of the blouse was ruffled too, and the outfit as a whole had, Christine felt, a Victorian feel. Combined with her new short, tight perm she thought that she looked a great deal older than her 21 years, and virtually unrecognisable from the way she had looked before she had started down the road of smartening herself up. A road, it had to be said, which her mother was now enthusiastically driving her down.

Mum, though, didn’t seem entirely pleased with Christine’s current appearance, and was fussing with the high, stiff ruffled collar.

“This really won’t do, you know.’ she said, more to herself than Christine. ‘I knew that I should have had Eileen take your hairline up a bit more, and I really wish you hadn’t washed out your lovely set.”

This wasn’t a complete surprise to Christine; her mother had been quite cross that she had washed her hair that morning, removing all traces of the stiff, formal set she had been given yesterday. Christine had rather liked the the plain and simple little head of neatly permed curls that she had been left with, but it seemed that her mother (and presumably her gran as well) would prefer to see her with the smarter and more traditional lacquered bouffant style. Her mother had also seemed a little disappointed that her hair hadn’t been cut shorter when it was permed, and Christine, if she was completely honest, was also both a little surprised, and relieved, that Eileen hadn’t used her clippers to shear the back of Christine’s hair as her friend Susan’s had been a few days before. It sounded though, that this situation may be remedied before too long.

“I don’t know what your gran will say either. She was keen that it was cut up short enough.”

Christine’s formidable Grandmother had indeed been adamant that Christine’s hair, though extremely short compared to her previous
long mane, and neatly set, should be tidied up still further, and Christine wouldn’t be at all surprised if she wasn’t satisfied with what Eileen had described as ‘a good trim’. She started to unbutton the uncomfortably stiff collar, only for her mother to do it back up again.

“No, I’d like you to leave this outfit on, so gran can see you wearing it.”

Christine rolled her eyes at the thought of being kept buttoned up in her stiff, tight collar for the rest of the day, and being paraded in front of gran, who would no doubt still find some way in which Christine could be made even smarter. There didn’t seem much option though, so she obediently buttoned her collar back up to her mother’s approval.

“Oh well,” thought Christine, “I suppose I’ll have to get used to being smartly dressed for work!”

They went and paid for all the clothes and headed for the opticians. Mum had noticed Christine squinting over the last few days, and had made her an appointment for an eye test.

They were welcomed into the opticians by the manager, a middle aged lady with short, neatly curled hair, wearing the shop’s smart green and white uniform. Christine’s mum explained why they were there, and Christine was ushered through to the back of the shop by an assistant. She was dressed in the same smart uniform, but was perhaps a little younger than Christine, and her long, dark brown hair was worn loose, with a messy centre parting, and tucked haphazardly behind her ears.

The optician conducted Christine’s eye test quickly and efficiently, while the assistant – Claire according to her name badge -  busied herself tidying up a long bench at the end of the room. Christine noticed that she was repeatedly forced to push her long hair back behind her ears and out of her face as she worked. When the optician concluded the tests, and announced that Christine would need to wear glasses, Claire took her back through the front of the shop.

As Christine walked back in her mum looked up and beckoned her over.

“I’ve found some lovely frames for you, dear. I think they’ll go very well with your new smarter look.”

The frames looked sturdy and sensible, with a bit of a ‘cat’s eye’ shape. Whilst they were rather old-fashioned looking, Christine had to concede that this did indeed, make them very appropriate with her new hair and wardrobe.

“Yes mum, they’re very nice.”

“A very sensible choice,” the manager commented. “Are you on a mission to smarten your daughter up then?”

“Something like that.” replied mum, with a small smile.

“Well good for you. It’s lovely to see a young lady so smartly dressed, and with a nice neat little perm too. So many young women seem to think they can keep their hair long like schoolgirls, and leave it hanging down in scruffy rat’s tails!” She glanced pointedly at Claire, the assistant as she said this.

Christine looked at Claire, who was rolling her eyes. She sensed that this wasn’t the first time that Claire had been talked to about her hair.

Christine didn’t want to intervene between the two of them so she just smiled and asked when she could pick up her glasses.

“They should be ready this afternoon, any time after 2 o’clock.”

“OK, I’ll see you later then.”

They left the opticians and started to drive towards Christine’s gran’s flat.

Christine was looking at herself in the mirror in her sun visor. “So what do you think Gran will say about my hair then? Surely she’ll be pleased that I’ve finally got a nice short perm?”

Mum glanced across from the driving seat. “Well I expect she’ll first ask why you washed your set out, and then she’ll point out that it catches on your blouse collar, and that Eileen should have taken you down shorter. You know how neat she keeps her own hair, after all. I think she expects everyone else to do the same. She’s even been telling me that mine is too long at the back lately!”

“Perhaps you should have asked Eileen to take *your* hair up a bit shorter!” replied Christine, with a mischevious grin. “After all, you wouldn’t want it catching on your blouse collar!”

“That’s enough of your cheek, young lady,” replied Mum, but there was a twinkle in her eye. She glanced thoughtfully at herself in the rear-view mirror. “Still, if I’m insisting on you looking so smart, I suppose I really should be setting a good example myself.”

With that, they pulled up outside Christine’s Gran’s flat, leaving Christine to contemplate another visit to Eileen’s, and to wonder how short her hair  would end up. As they got out of the car, Christine glanced across the car park and to her surprise saw Mrs. Cathcart, her old headmistress who she had met on her visit to Eileen’s. There was a young man with her, who Christine recognised as Jonathan, her son. Christine remembered him from her church youth club, though she hadn’t seen him for a couple of years. He had been in the same school year as her, so she presumed he had just graduated from university as well.

Christine and her mum walked across and said hello.

“Well, Christine, Eileen certainly gave you a nice neat perm. I hope that you’re pleased with it?”

“Yes, Mrs. Cathcart. I think that it was just what I needed.”

“Quite right Christine.” She turned to Christine’s mum. “I can’t help wondering why you didn’t get Eileen to give her a proper set though?”

“Oh she gave her a lovely firm set, but Christine washed it out this morning! She doesn’t seem to realise that she doesn’t need to wash her hair every day now that she’s got a grown-up hairstyle.”

“Oh Christine!” Mrs. Cathcart looked exasperated. “What on earth is the point of having a perm and set, and then washing it all out! A good set will last for days on top of your perm.”

“Yes Mrs. Cathcart,” replied Christine meekly, “I realise that now, and I’ve already promised Mum that I won’t wash the next one out so soon.” She caught Jonathan’s eye, and rolled her eyes at him. He grinned back at her, and turned to Mrs. Cathcart.

“Shall I get the rest of the stuff from Gran’s flat, mum?”

“Yes, please do. Christine, would you give Jonathan a hand? Holding doors open for him?”

Chrisitine agreed, and she and Jonathan headed off towards the flats. She noticed that he was looking quite smart; a white shirt and dark trousers, polished black shoes and his dark hair had been wet down and neatly combed with a very straight side parting, though it was rather too long for this style, hanging over his ears and collar. Christine guessed that Mrs. Cathcart had insisted that he smartened up to visit his gran. He was the first to break the silence.

“You’re looking very smart, Christine.”

She decided to take this as a compliment, and smiled back at him. “Thank you. Mum wanted me to look presentable for visiting Gran. ”

He smiled ruefully back. “I know the feeling. Mum got me to me dress up, and even insisted on giving me a proper side parting. He paused for a moment, and then as Christine turned to him he asked “Was having your hair cut off and permed your mum’s idea too?”

“Sort of”, replied Christine. “I had it cut quite short and had a shampoo and set before graduation, partly as a surprise for Mum, and partly just because I wanted to look smart, and grown-up. But Mum liked it so much that she insisted that I had it permed, and cut up even shorter. Gran has been wanting me to have what she calls a ‘respectable’ hairstyle for ages, too. She hasn’t seen it since it was permed, and mum’s not sure if she will think it’s short enough even now.”

“That sounds familiar too,” replied Jonothan. “Mum was quite upset that I didn’t have my hair cut short for graduation. I’ve got a job interview next week, and she’s been threatening to drag me to the barbers before then for what she calls ‘a proper short back and sides’!”

“Well perhaps you should go,” Christine told him “I had a job interview just after my perm, and the lady who interviewed me was very impressed with how smart I looked. I’m sure it helped me get the job. Besides, you might find that you like having a neat and tidy haircut.” She paused. “And it would definitely make your mum happy.”

“That’s true,” he agreed, “and it’s hard to argue with you when you’ve set such a good example. I’m just a bit nervous about it.”

“Well perhaps I could go with you.” suggested Christine. “Give you a bit of moral support.” Jonathan didn’t reply immediately,  so she went on. “We could go this afternoon. I was going to take a load of my old clothes to a charity shop in town. You could come and help me, and we can get your hair cut at the same time. It will be a nice surprise for your mum!”

Jonathan still didn’t reply to this, though he seemed to be considering Christine’s suggestion, and she decided that she shouldn’t push him any further just then.

They reached Jonathan’s Gran’s flat, and pushed the door open. Jonathan picked up a large cardboard box full of bric-a-brac,
and Christine held the door for him. Jonathan noticed her looking around and explained that his gran was visiting one of her friends.

They made their way down the stairs, with Christine holding the doors open for Jonathan to manhandle the heavy box around. When they got back to the carpark, Jonathan gratefully placed the box into the car boot. Their mothers were still chatting away, but as Christine and Jonathan approached, Mrs. Cathcart brought the conversation to a close.

“Come on Jonathan, we must be going.” She turned to Christine’s mum. “I trust we’ll see you at church tomorrow?”

“Certainly” replied mum.

“Actually,” put in Christine, “Jonathan was going to give me a hand taking my old clothes to the charity shop this afternoon, so I’ll see you about 2 o’clock?”

Jonathan nodded his agreement, they took their leave, and Christine and her mum headed up the stairs to Gran’s flat.

Christine nervously rang the bell and waited for her gran. When she opened the door, she was dressed as smartly as ever, and she had obviously been to the hairdresser’s that morning. Her hair was cut very short at the back and sides, and set into a helmet of stiff, shiny, silver curls on top of her head. Christine remembered that on Saturday mornings a local hairdresser came and opened up the salon on the ground floor of the flats and all the ladies went to have their hair done. Most of them seemed to have the same style as Gran, though Christine remembered that Gran had worn hers in a longer, less severe style (though still neatly permed) before she had come to live in the flats.

Gran looked critically over Christine. “Well I’m glad to see that you’ve finally had her hair permed, Sheila, but it’s still much too long at the back, and why on earth hasn’t it been set?”

Christine’s mum sighed. “Eileen did give her a lovely smart set, but Christine decided to wash her hair again this morning. I was quite cross with her, and I think that she now understands that a proper hairstyle is supposed to last for for several days, if you look after it carefully.”

“Quite right.” Gran agreed, touching her own hair carefully. “You know very well that my hair is set every Saturday morning, regular as clockwork, and it still looks presentable on a Friday. That’s another reason for keeping it at a sensible length. You really should have yours tidied up Sheila, so a set will last you all week. And Christine’s definitely needs to be cut up shorter at the back. I want to see her looking like a proper, respectable young lady for once!”

With that, Gran picked up the phone and dialled quickly.

“Carol? Good, you’re still there. Are you busy? ….. My granddaughter needs a tidy up and a set….. Excellent, we’ll be down straight away.”

She turned to Christine and her mum.

“Come on then you two, lets get that hair properly tidied up.”

There was clearly no arguing with Gran in this mood, so Christine and her mum obediently followed as she swept out of her flat. After a quick trip down in the lift, they arrived in the downstairs salon, and were greeted by a middle-aged lady with a severe, blunt bob, wearing a hairdresser’s smock. This was obviously Carol.

“Ah, you must be Christine. Your gran told me that you’d finally agreed to have a perm, and how much she was looking forward to seeing you looking smart and presentable.”

“Yes,” put in Gran, “but I’m afraid she was let off much too easily, and her hair has been left far too long at the back.” Gran tugged at Christine’s curls as she said this, forcing her to turn her head so that Carol could see the back.

“Yes, I see what you mean. Easy enough to sort out though. Into the chair with you then, young lady.”

It seemed that Carol, like Audrey and Eileen, was not interested in Christine’s opinion, and was going to do exactly what she, and Gran, thought was best. Christine decided that having come this far with her hair and general appearance, she might as well make her Gran happy, and sat meekly in the chair.

“Right then,” said Carol, briskly running her comb through Christine’s curls. “I assume that you want her to have the standard ladies’ cut? Back and sides taken down tight, so it’s nice and smart, and well off her collar and her ears. Is that all right for you?”

This question was clearly aimed not at Christine, but at her Gran, who happily replied. “Yes please. Short, neat and respectable. That’s how I want to see her for once!”. The phrase ‘standard ladies’ cut’ was a little alarming for Christine, but she realised that Carol did indeed give all of the ladies in the flats the same haircut, and probably gave them as little choice as Christine was being given now!

Carol hadn’t wasted any time, and had brought out a big pair of clippers, just like the ones that Christine had seen used on her friend Susan just a few days before. She knew what was coming, and allowed Carol to firmly push her head down, chin onto chest. Carol ran the clippers straight up the back of Christine’s head, removing all of what her Grandmother considered unnecessarily long hair. This was repeated several times, as she worked her way around Christine’s head, resulting in all of the curls below the top of Christine’s ears being removed, with the hair left behind so short that it could only lie flat and neat against her head.

“Much better!” said Carol. “I must say that it makes a nice change to see a young woman with a really smart cut. Now I don’t think we need to take any off the top, so I’ll just get her set up in rollers for you.”

“Yes please,” replied Gran. “Getting rid of the scruffy back and taking it up over her ears has made all the difference. A nice smart set and she’ll finally look like a proper, respectable young lady.

Carol hadn’t waited for confirmation, and was already busily appying setting lotion to Christine’s hair, having thoroughly wet it down with a spray bottle. She then started to wind the hair on top of Christine’s head onto small, spiky plastic rollers, each one secured with a matching plastic pick. Christine was then ushered out of the chair and marched across the salon to one of two large hairdryers mounted on the far wall. As soon as Christine was netted and under the dryer, Gran turned to Christine’s Mum.

“Right Sheila, you’re next!”

Mum was a bit surprised by this. “Oh! I don’t really think that my hair needs cutting yet. I suppose it could perhaps do with a set….”

“Nonsense!” Gran interrupted her. “You’re having the same cut as Christine. I’m not having you letting the side down now that we’ve finally got her properly smartened up! ”

Mum opened her mouth to argue, and then thought better of it. She couldn’t really complain after all the smartening up she’d done to Christine.

Christine, stuck under the noisy dryer couldn’t follow the converstaion, so was a little surprised when her mum was taken across the salon and bent over the washbasin, where Carol briskly shampooed out the lacquer and setting lotion that was holding her hair neatly in place. Her hair was quickly towelled, and then she too found herself helpless in Carol’s chair, a floral cape fastened around her neck and her damp permed curls hanging down.

“One more short ladies’ cut coming up!” cried Carol with a certain amount of relish. She certainly had enjoyed the opportunity to give a good shearing to two more ladies, especially as they were younger than her usual clients; much younger, in Christine’s case!

Her clippers made short work of Sheila’s hair, leaving her with the same tightly cropped back and sides as Christine. Carol stretched out one of the curls remaining on the top of Sheila’s head and looked enquiringly at Gran.

“I’ll just take a little off the top, alright?” Gran nodded and Carol’s scissors quickly reduced Sheila’s curls to the minimum necessary to take a roller. She was then soaked with the pale pink setting lotion and rolled up tightly on more spiky plastic rollers. Whilst Sheila was far from happy about receiving such a severe, old-fashioned hairdo, and also about the way that she had been given no choice in the matter, she recognised that she had been perfectly happy both to have Christine’s hair permed and set without asking her opinion, and also to watch as Gran had Christine cropped even shorter. Accordingly, she sat quietly and let Carol give her the ‘standard ladies’ cut’ that would leave her matching both her mother and her daughter!

Sheila’s rollers were then covered with the same type of  thick, white hairnet as Christine was wearing, and she was tucked under the dryer next to her daughter. Christine was secretly delighted to see her mum being told what to do, and decided that it was well worth being given no choice about her severe cropping and prim little set, in order to see mum subjected to the same treatment.

Christine’s short curls were now dry, so Carol lifted up the dryer and took her back to the chair. The hairnet was removed, followed by the rollers, and Carol used a fine toothed comb to briskly tease the rigid tubes of hair into a smooth helmet shape. This was then locked into place with several long blasts from an enormous can of old fashioned hair lacquer.

When the clouds of lacquer had subsided, Christine looked at herself in the mirror to discover that, apart from the colour, her hair was now the spitting image of her gran’s, and indeed most of the other ladies in the flats.

Gran was looking very pleased with herself, and when Christine was released from Carol’s chair she stood up and gave her a thorough appraisal. “Much better.” she announced, nodding. “I’m so pleased that I finally get to see my granddaughter looking like a respectable young lady. Now Christine, you mustn’t wash this set out. I want you to see you looking nice and smart for church tomorrow, and I want you to promise me that even though you’re moving away, you’ll find yourself a proper hairdresser to keep your hair in a neat little shampoo and set from now on.”

Christine had now had a few moments to appraise her new hairstyle, and had tentatively decided that she actually quite liked it. Whether she kept up the prim and proper shampoo and set, or washed it out for a plain, no-nonsense tight perm, she had no option but to look like a very smart and conservative young lady, just as her grandmother had always wanted her. There was even less possibility than before of making her hair look in any way trendy or fashionable, and she realised that this was just fine with her. Which, when she thought about it, was a very good thing, because she was now stuck with her very short, very curly hair for the foreseeable future

“Yes Gran,” she replied “I promise. l’ll need to keep my hair looking respectable for work, anyway.”

Carol was now fetching Christine’s mum from under the dryer, and proceeded to whisk out her rollers and give her the same treatment as Christine, teasing her curls out and lacquering her hair into a stiff, bouffant helmet.

Mum looked a little uncomfortable as she was released from Carol’s chair, and patted her hands nervously over her rigid curls as she examined herself in the mirror. Christine thought that the new style made her look very smart, though perhaps older than she had before. “That’s really lovely mum!” she exclaimed.

“Much smarter!” chipped in Gran. “I’ve been telling you that you needed a proper cut for ages.”

“Thank you” replied Mum. “It is very short, but at least it will stay looking neat and tidy now.”

“It should stay looking smart all week for you Mrs. Jones,” Carol told her. “It’s a lovely, fuss-free haircut, that’s why all of my regular ladies like it so much. Now, would you like me to book you in for a regular Saturday shampoo and set?”

“Well,” pondered Mum, “Eileen has been saying for a while that the shop might be getting a bit much for her, and that perhaps it’s time she thought about retiring, so I think I may have been looking for a new hairdresser very soon anyway. And it does look very smart, so yes, please, book me in as one of your regular shampoo and set ladies.”

“Very good.” replied Carol, “perhaps you’d both like to take a few of my business cards. I’m normally in my salon in town, just off the high street. If Eileen is closing down then perhaps a few more of her ladies will come to me.”


Christine rang the doorbell of the Cathcarts’ house and waited for it to be answered. She had come to pick up Jonathan to help her take her old clothes to the charity shop and, hopefully, take him to the barbers for a short, smart haircut of his own. She was looking forward to seeing his long, scruffy hair cut up nice and short and unconsciously her hand went to the back of her neck to feel where her own hair had been neatly clippered off. It occurred to her that Jonathan might be a little shocked to see how short her hair was now, even though he had seen her with her neat and tidy perm that morning.

“Hello Christine.” Mrs. Cathcart had answered the door. “My, that *is* a smart haircut. Your mother said that she thought your Gran would want you tidied up a bit more. It looks like she didn’t waste any time!”

“No, she didn’t, ” replied Christine a little ruefully. “And you’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve had to promise her that I’ll be keeping my hair in a proper shampoo and set from now on.”

“I certainly am. The discipline of maintaining a traditional hairstyle will be very good for you, I’m sure. Ah, Jonathan, there you are. Doesn’t Christine look smart with her hair cut up so neatly?”

“Er, yes, very smart.”

“Perhaps you could take a leaf out of her book, then” Mrs. Cathcart replied pointedly.

“We’d better get going, hadn’t we?” Jonathan quickly moved past her and ushered Christine away. “See you later, Mum.”

Christine and Jonathan got into the car, and Christine glanced across at him. He was still smartly dressed as he had been that morning, and his hair, which had got slightly dishevelled carrying boxes was once again neatly combed with a nice straight parting. Christine assumed that Mrs. Cathcart had made sure that Jonathan still looked presentable, but decided not to mention it.

They parked near the charity shop, and after a couple of trips they had transferred all of Christines old clothes to the delighted volunteers. Christine took the opportunity to browse around, and found herself a pretty floral skirt and a lovely prim little blouse that buttoned right up to the collar. They walked back to the car and Christine popped her purchases onto the back seat.

“Right!” she said, looking directly at Jonathan. “Next stop: the barbers!”

“Umm… Errrr.. I’m not quite, err…”

“Come along.” replied Christine, taking no notice of his protestations. “You know that you won’t make a good impression at your interview looking like that, so stop being silly, and come with me.”

Jonathan realised that he had no choice, and followed Christine meekly along the high street until they came to a rather old-fashioned looking barbers. They walked in to find no customers waiting, and the barber finishing up trimming the hair of an elderly gentleman who didn’t really have that much hair left. The barber glanced over and quickly sized them up.

“Be with you very soon ma’am.”

He was true to his word, and within five minutes Jonathan was sitting in the barber’s chair with a pinstriped cape fastened  tightly around his neck. The barber dragged his comb through Jonathan’s hair, forcing it back into the perfectly straight side parting that Mrs. Cathcart had decreed that morning, and turned to Christine. “How would you like his hair cut today, Madam?”

“Well,” replied Christine, “He needs to look smart for a job interview, and his Mum wants him to have a proper short back and sides, please.” Christine was rather excited that the barber had obviously decided that as Jonathan clearly didn’t really want to be there, then Christine was therefore in charge, and, just like her recent experiences, the person in the chair was getting no say in how their hair would look.

“Very good.” replied the barber. “Let’s give Mum what she wants then, and get you looking nice and smart for your interview. Head down please.”

Jonathan had no choice in this, as the barber firmly pushed his head down so that his chin was touching his chest. He picked up a large pair of clippers, flicked them on, and ran them uncerimoniously up the back of Jonathan’s head. Christine had to stifle a gasp as she saw just how quickly Jonathan’s thick, wavy dark locks were being replaced with a uniform pelt of very short hair. It was clear that the barber had no qualms about removing Jonathan’s trendy, long, surfer cut and replacing it with a plain and simple, old-fashioned short back and sides.

Jonathan himself was none too happy about the way that the barber, at Christine’s instruction, was removing most of his hair. He had no doubt that when he left the chair his hair would not only be very short, but also very smart indeed, exactly as his mother would want to see him.

The barber continued to reduce the back and sides of Jonathan’s hair to what he considered appropriate for ‘a proper short back and sides’. This meant running his clippers high over Jonathan’s ears, to leave them fully exposed for the first time since the last haircut his mother had supervised, some years before. The back had now been tapered down to nothing at the hairline, but the top hair was still rather long.

“Parting alright for you here Madam?” the barber asked Christine, once again forcing Jonathan’s hair into a perfect straight parting down the left hand side of his head. Christine nodded. She couldn’t quite believe just how short Jonathan’s hair was now – even shorter than when he had lived at home with his mother, if she remembered correctly. She wasn’t quite sure how he would react when the barber had finished with him.

The barber now picked up a pair of thinning shears, and proceeded to attack Jonathan’s hair with them. “His hair is far too thick to lie down properly,” he remarked. “This will make sure that it stays neat and tidy.”

Jonathan wasn’t enjoying the sensation as the thinning shears tugged at his hair and banged on his head. He also didn’t like the barber’s implication that he was going to be left with a haircut that would leave him no choice but to look neat and tidy all the time. It then occurred to him that Christine was in exactly that position, with her very short, very tight perm, and that perhaps he should just resign himself to the inevitable.

The barber then returned to his clippers and comb to blend the very short back and sides in with the longer top. It didn’t take long, and he turned to Christine once more.

“I’ve taken the back and sides down nice and close, and you’ll notice that the hair to the left of the parting is quite short, but the hair on the other side is longer. That makes it easy to get the parting in the right place, and means that he can’t wear it any other way. He’ll have a nice neat side parting from now on, whether he wants it or not!”

As the barber was telling Christine this, he picked up a large red tub from the counter and scooped a handful of thick white cream out of it. He rubbed it in his hands, and then started to massage it into Jonathan’s hair.

“You did want dressing on his hair, didn’t you?” he belatedly asked Christine.

“Ooh, yes please,” she replied. “We definitley want him looking as smart as possible.”

“I quite agree,” replied the barber. “I suggest that his his hair is brylcreemed every morning, if you want to keep him looking smart.” With that he finished combing Jonathan’s hair back into it’s perfect parting, with the remaining top hair flat, sleek and shiny against his head.

“There you go, one very smart young man, with a proper short back and sides. I’m sure that Mum will be very pleased.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure she will be, don’t you think so, Jonathan?”

“Errrr, yes, I expect she will be.” replied Jonathan. He was feeling slightly disorientined. A few minutes ago he had walked in here with thick dark hair spilling over his ears and collar. Now the image he saw in the mirror had a very traditional, very smart, very short haircut, and almost looked like a different person. As the initial shock wore off, he realised two things. Firstly, this wasn’t a bad haircut, it was just very different from his previous look. The barber clearly knew his business, and had done an excellent job of creating a perfect short back and sides. The second thing he realised is that whatever he thought of it, he was stuck with it for some time, and, just like Christine with her short tight perm, he resolved to make the best of it. He turned to Christine.

“And do you like it?” he asked her.

“Oh yes, very much.” she replied. ” You look so much smarter with a proper haircut. I hope you’ll be keeping it nice and short from now on.”

” I suppose I will,” Jonathan replied, “at least for a while. I’m not sure that Mum will give me much choice anyway.” he added ruefully.

Jonathan paid the barber, and they headed off to the opticians to pick up Christine’s glasses. She was pleased but suprised to see that Claire, the young woman who had tested her eyes earlier was the only one in the shop, and that her long, previously messy hair had been combed and scraped back into a tight, neat ponytail.

“Hello, ” began Christine, “I’ve come to pick up my new glasses.”

“Ah yes, I remember. Let me just check….” Claire retrieved Christine’s glasses from under the counter and handed them to her. “Try them on to make sure they fit.”

Christine did, and looked at herself in the mirror. With the old-fashioned cats-eye frames and her severe old-lady hairdo, she thought she looked like a very strict teacher. Claire was looking at her too, checking the fit of the glasses.

“Have you had your hair cut since this morning?” she asked, sounding puzzled.

“Yes, replied Christine. “My Gran didn’t think it was short enough, and she insisted on a shampoo and set as well. She wanted me looking respectable for starting my new job. Your hair is looking much tidier too, I see.”

“Yes, I go a bit of a talking to from Mrs. McCluskey when you left.” Claire pulled a face. “She doesn’t really approve of my long hair, especially if it’s loose, and she made me tie it back. She made it very clear though, that if she had her way, I’d have a neat little perm like yours.”

“Well you do look much smarter with it out of your face, so perhaps she has a  point.”

“Oh, I know it looks more professional, and it’s much more practical when it’s out of the way. The trouble is that I’m no good at putting it up; a ponytail is about all I can do, and if I have it up all day it gives me a headache.”

“Well you know the answer then, don’t you? A short, smart haircut will solve all of your problems. No headaches, no fussing with your hair, and no complaints from your boss!”

“Yes, I know.” Claire looked unhappy. “I just don’t think I’m brave enough to walk into a hairdresser’s and ask them to chop it all off.”

“Well, if Mrs. McCluskey really gets on the warpath about it, you may not have much choice. I suspect that your long haired days may be numbered.”

“Hmmm.. I suppose you might be right about that. I’ll just have to wait and see if she calms down a bit, or if she really puts her foot down and makes me have it cut. I can’t really afford to upset her, I’ve only been working here for a few weeks, so I’m still on probabtion.”

“Well it might not be the worst thing in the world if she did.” Christine told her. “I’m sure that you’d get used to it very quickly.” She reached up to pat her neat little curls, realising that she had already got used to Carol’s ‘standard ladies’ cut’. She saw Claire following her gesture, and thought that she was about to ask her about her hair, but then changed her mind, and simply resumed checking the fit of Christine’s glasses.

Having established that Christine’s new glasses fitted well, they left the opticains, with Christine mischeviously thinking of how she could help Mrs. McCluskey find an ‘excuse’ to have Claire’s hair transformed into a short, neat little perm. Despite her protestations, some of Claire’s earlier statements made Christine think that actually she might not mind too much if she was given no choice, and marched down to a traditional hairdressers for a good tidy up.

Christine and Jonathan made  a quick stop at the chemists for Christine to buy the hairnets which her Gran insisted she would need to wear at night, along with several cans of traditional hair lacquer to keep her hair stiff and shiny. She also insisted on buying a large tub of brylcreem, which she told Jonathan he would have to put in his hair every day, just as the barber had suggested. He didn’t seem too keen on this, until Christine pointed out that to keep her hair looking presentable, she was going to be sitting under a hot dryer with a head full of spiky rollers twice a week, as well as the hairnets and lacquer, so the least that he could do was to keep his hair neatly combed. Jonathan agreed, slightly shame-facedly, realising that, perhaps, having a short, smart haircut wasn’t really as bad as he might have thought.

Jonathan was quiet on the way back home. Christine guessed that he was wondering how his mum would react to his new smart haircut, and also trying to work out how he felt about it himself. They didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Now *that* looks better!” exclaimed Mrs. Cathcart. “I assume that I have you to thank for this, Christine?”

“Well, I helped, certainly, but I think Jonathan was ready for a smart, grown-up haircut. He just needed a little bit of encouragement.” Christine smiled at Jonathan.

“Yes,” he agreed ruefully, “I suppose I was.”

“Well I’m certainly very pleased to see you looking so respectable for once. Your grandmother will be pleased too.” She looked more closely at Jonathan’s hair. “And I see that the barber has put cream on your hair. I hope you’ll be keeping that up, as well.”

“Oh yes,” Christine jumped in. “The barber said that he should put it on every day, and  Jonathan has promised me that he will.” She dug the tub out of her bag, and handed it over to Mrs. Cathcart. “And his hair’s been cut so that it has to go in a proper side parting. I think we can safely say that Jonathan will be looking very neat and tidy from now on.”

“Yes, I think we can.” Mrs. Cathcart smiled. “Well thank you once again, Christine. I’ll look forward to seeing you at church tomorrow.”

Christine left, thinking that she was also looking forward to church tomorrow. She was perhaps a little nervous about meeting some of her old friends, and having to explain why she looked so differerent to the girl they remembered, and also about being ‘shown off’ to her mother’s friends as a ‘perfect, respectable daughter’. On the other hand, this would have to happen some time, so she might as well get it over with. And she was certainly looking forward to seeing Jonathan again, hopefully wearing a suit, and with his hair neatly combed and shining with lots of brylcreem.

When she got home, she first told her mum about Jonathan’s haircut, and how lovely and smart he looked, and then told her about her visit to the optician’s, and her conversation with Claire.

“I was thinking, Mum. You’ve been a customer there for years, haven’t you?”

“Oh yes, ever since I’ve been wearing glasses. And I know Mrs. McCluskey from the Women’s Institute as well, so I’m not surprised that your young lady got a stiff talking to. She’s always immaculately turned out herself, and she’s certainly not shy about expressing her opinions!”

“Well, I was wondering if you might provide a bit of a ‘helping hand’ to get Claire smartened up. If you were to write Mrs. McCluskey a letter, as a long-standing customer, explaining that Claire was friendly and polite, but that you felt that her appearance, and particularly her hair just didn’t give the right impression…..” Christine gave her mum a mischevious smile.

“Then Mrs. McCluskey would have a perfect excuse to make her cut her hair!” Mum finished for her. “Do you think she’d be very unhappy about that?”

“I don’t think so,” replied Christine. “She said that she knows she needs a sensible short haircut, so I think she just needs to be firmly encouraged.”

“Hmmmmmm….. Well perhaps I will write that letter then. She’d certainly look a lot smarter with a neat little head of curls.” Mum smiled at the thought of another young lady losing her long ‘rat’s tails’ in favour of a sensible short haircut.

The next day, Christine woke up with her hairnet still firmly in place over her neatly-set curls. Removing it, her hair still looked neat and tidy, but she didn’t think that her mum would let her get away without applying more lacquer, so she used her comb to touch up a few stray locks, took a deep breath and sprayed her head with a long blast. When everything had settled, Christine thought that her hair looked suitably stiff and shiny, so she put on her suit from the day before, along with a smart white blouse, and went to find her mum. Mum was already downstairs, also dressed in a smart skirt suit and with her hair gleaming from freshly-applied lacquer.

“Oh Christine, you do look lovely. I still haven’t quite got used to it, so it’s still a nice surprise when I see you looking all grown-up, with your  hair done properly.”

“Thank you, Mum. I have to say that I haven’t really got used to it myself. It is nice not to have to spend an hour or more washing, drying and combing it though. How are you finding your new hairdo?”

Mum patted her shiny silver curls nervously.

“Well it certainly stays looking presentable. I’m sure I’ll get used to it very quickly. Now, I’m pleased that you’re wearing that blouse, but I think it needs something to finish it off. Just give me a minute.”

Mum popped upstairs and returned with a small oval cameo brooch. She fastened Christine’s top button, and pinned the brooch over it.

“There you go, that looks lovely. Nice and smart for church.”

“Thanks Mum.” Once again, Christine had the feeling that no matter how smart she was, her mother and grandmother would find some way to smarten her up even more. Still, she was at least confident that her hair was now finally short enough for both of them!

After breakfast, they made their way to church for the morning service. As they went in, Mum spotted Mrs. Cathcart and Jonathan and led Christine over to sit with them.

“Hello Mrs. Cathcart, Hello Jonathan. Christine told me that you’d had a proper haircut Jonathan, but that really does make you look very smart indeed.”

“Thank you Mrs. Jones.”

Jonathan did indeed look very smart. Just as Christine had hoped, he was wearing a suit and tie, and his hair looked just as it had yesterday; neatly combed with a pefectly straight parting, and shiny with lots of Brylcreem. Christine wondered whether Jonathan was entirely responsible for this, or whether Mrs. Cathcart had had to make him fasten his top button and apply the brylcreem and comb herself.

“And it seems that it’s not only the young people who have been smartened up.” Mrs. Cathcart observed. “I see you decided to follow Christine’s good example and opt for an extra short haircut yourself.”

“Actually it was Gran’s idea.” Christine blurted out. ” I think she wanted all of us looking the same.”

Her mum frowned at her. “Well, yes, mother was keen for us all to be looking as smart as each other, but you’re right; Christine has set an excellent example with her appearance, and it’s only right that I should follow suit.”

“Well it certainly looks very tidy.” Mrs. Cathcart patted her own neatly set curls a little self-consciously. “Perhaps I should ask Eileen for a shorter cut at my next appointment.”

It was then time for the service to start, and Christine and her mum settled down into seats behind Mrs. Cathcart and Jonathan. This meant that Christine had a very good view of the back and side of Jonathan’s head, and spent a good part of the service appreciating just how handsome he looked with his tidy short back and sides.

After the service they were joined by Christine and Jonathan’s respective grandmothers, who had been in their regular seats on the other side of the church.

“Hello Christine. I’m glad you’ve managed to keep your set in for a little longer this time.” Gran somehow managed to sound disapproving even when Christine hadn’t done anything wrong. “And who’s this handsome young man with you?”

“That’s my grandson.” interjected Jonathan’s gran. “Doesn’t he look smart with his hair cut up nice and short? And don’t they make a lovely couple? It’s so nice to see two young people who know how to make themselves look presentable.”

Christine and Jonathan were both slightly taken aback by this.

“Er, we’re not…”

“No, he isn’t my…”

They both stopped as they realised that Jonathan’s gran wasn’t listening, and had blithely carried on. They looked at each other a little sheepishly.

“So you’re off to start your new job soon then Christine?”

“Yes, that’s right. I’m getting the train down this afternoon.”

“Well it was nice to see you again, and, er, thanks for going to the barbers with me. I don’t think that Mum would have let me get away with going to my interview with my scruffy hair, so it was nice to surprise her like we did.”

“You’re welcome. It really does suit you, you know. You are going to keep it short and smart I hope.”

He gave a wry smile. “Well Mum’s made it pretty clear that she’s expecting it to stay like this, so with both of you on at me, I suppose I don’t have much choice.”

“Sounds like we’re in the same boat then.” Christine ran her hand up the back of her own short, neat little crop of curls. “Look, it was nice to see you again, so keep in touch will you? Here’s my number.” She scribbled quickly on the back of a scrap of paper from her purse.

“Thanks,” replied Jonathan automatically. “Yes, I will. Good luck with the new job.”

Christine smiled as she left with her mum. They picked up Christine’s bags from home, and drove straight to the station.

“So this is it. My baby girl is finally leaving home for good.” Mum smiled as she spoke, but there was sadness in her eyes too.

“Don’t be silly,” Christine chastised her “I’ll be back next weekend, to pick up some more of my things.”

“I know. It’s still seems like a big moment though. Call me tonight, once you’ve got settled in.”

“I will, don’t worry.”

They turned to see the train approaching, and waited in silence until it pulled in. They briefly hugged, and Christine stepped on to the train.

“Safe journey, darling.” Mum called as the door closed. Christine turned and waved as the train pulled out, then as the train pulled away, she settled down in her seat, ready to begin the next chapter in her life.

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