Jessie is having a graduated bob. I’d been off running some errands, but when I come back she’s nowhere near ready, so I sit down in a high-backed leather chair and flick through a lifestyle magazine, pictures of distressed dressers, chickens, fancy moustaches, antique mirrors, yawning, checking my phone.
‘Did you park alright?’ says the woman minding the front desk.
‘Yeah – it was fine. I found a space in the car park by the health centre. It wasn’t too bad. I know it gets tricky round here sometimes. What about you? What do you do?’
She’s just about to answer when the phone rings. She smiles, holds up an immaculately nailed finger, and answers in a different, professional kind of voice, rushing through the words so they blend into one long, smooth and sleepy sound.
‘Let me just check that for you,’ she says, licking her finger and scooching through a ledger. ‘Yes. We have a cancellation tomorrow, so I can fit you in then.’ She confirms the time and the date, says goodbye, hangs up, and writes the appointment down.
‘We’ve got a computer,’ she says, glancing over at me. ‘But we keep the book just in case.’
When she’s done and settled again, I ask her how she gets to work, and does she get the train in. (It’d make sense. You wouldn’t have to worry about parking, the train station is just down the road, and anyway, I’ve been thinking about trains lately – how it’s such a scandal you can fly to Greece cheaper than you can get a train to London, and how that just about sums up the whole climate emergency situation). But she mishears me.
‘Yes, I did do the training,’ she says. ‘And I quite enjoyed it. But for some reason I never really took it up. I don’t know why. I suppose I was never in the right place, mentally I mean. It does help on reception though. When people ring up I know what they’re talking about. But beyond that – I don’t get involved much. I cut my husband’s hair. Sometimes I’ll go to the old people’s home and do some of them if they want it. But nothing fancy, nothing too difficult. Maybe one day I’ll do a refresher and get back into it properly. It’s a lot of standing about though, isn’t it? You’ve got to want to do it. To be fair, it’s the kind of skill you can take anywhere, though. Like nursing. Or mechanics. What about you? Have you ever been tempted by the scissors?’
I tell her I’m always impressed by anybody with a skill. I like the easy way they kick the chair up and down, that kind of thing.
‘But men’s hair is boring by comparison. We always go for the same thing. Number one on the sides, longer on top. Or have a bit of a tidy-up – that’s always a good one. A bit of a tidy-up.’
‘True!’ she says. ‘And you never make appointments, do you? You just walk in and hope for the best.’
‘The other day I went for a haircut, and the barber was really tired. He didn’t want to talk, which was great, because I find those conversations quite difficult, stuck in front of a mirror like that. I feel really self-conscious. Anyway, at the end, when he went to hold the mirror behind my head – which seems a bit pointless, because you always end up saying the same thing – “Yeah! That’s great! Really great!”, regardless, even if you’re completely bald – but this guy, he was so tired, he picked up his iPad and held that behind me, instead.’