The story so far:
1. It grows. Silently as far as I know, and I’ve paid it plenty of attention in recent years. Just like the nails on your fingers and toes, this keratin-based substance inches it way without you being aware of its progress. What I’d like to know though, is where baby hairs hide before they grow long enough to be part of the main attraction. I’m sure there must be multiple replacements for the dead that are shed in brushes and combs every day. It grows. And it grows wilfully, casting on sweater shoulders and pillowcases when it wants room for more. It grows.
2. Hair doesn’t bother me much. I have a good shaped skull and whether it is covered in long flowing tresses or a peachy furze of new growth matters not. It always grows back. After I had my head shaved, following a brain operation, I didn’t worry too much about it. The tonsured look would only attract pointed fingers and whispers, while a bare head with a large horseshoe scar answered nosy parkers’ unasked questions. Despite my extrovert personality, I didn’t think I could quite pull off Cadfael, besides it was summer and a long monk’s robe would have been far too warm.
3. The pilot hole through the bone has the greatest depth in the scar, fondly known as the Mariana trench. It makes things tricky if I decide on a new style requiring a parting in a particular position. Still, it’s great to be alive – really! My fingers can’t help tracing the deep line, a reminder of tough times and coming through them. I remember asking at the time if they drew on the bone to make sure they put it back the right way up. They do! Also, happy to discover they use something slightly more refined and sophisticated than a Black & Decker drill.
4. I hadn’t fully thought things through when I asked my sister-in-law to shave it all off. Regrowth, after a month or so, made me look like a chestnut until there was enough weight to make the hair hang down. Mind you, washing your ‘hair’ when it is barely a fuzz covering your scalp is so easy. A quick swipe with a flannel and you’re done. There isn’t really any need for shampoo and certainly not any detangling conditioner. The plughole doesn’t get bunged up either, so having a bath or a shower is a much faster thing than it used to be when my hair was shoulder length.
5. When your hair is short you want it long and when it’s long you want it short. My hair grows so fast it could be part of a Samuel Beckett or Eugene Ionesco absurd drama. Each style has its advantage. Short is quick to dry but soon grows out of style. The worst part is when strange, little devil flicks stick out from the sides by your ears – too short to grip with a clasp or tuck away and hardly worth a can of spray to make them behave. Long – well, inevitably it gets scraped up into a ponytail to avoid the lion’s mane effect when it clings to your nape and makes you sweat.
6. As a child, my hair was blonde. The rest of my features match golden lock – blue eyes, fair eyebrows, freckles when my skin is sun-kissed. We lived in Australia and spent most of our time in the swimming pool. I’d have my hair locked in elastic for bunches either side, which kept the hair from my face. In and out all day without rinsing or showering – what kid would have done that forty years ago – the chlorine made the strands stick together. In days when there was no hair conditioner it hurt to have Mum brush out the tats. Ouch!
7. Blonde to green, who’da thunk? Yes, my first change of hair colour happened as a result of all the swimming in heavily chlorinated water. I suspect the burning sun of Darwin helped turn it to straw. Once it was chopped off, brown hair, no longer sun-bleached to retain the fair highlights, crowned my head. Glints of gold and copper threaded throughout it and in hot summers the front of my hair would turn blonde and my eyebrows would disappear. Still, I was a teenager and didn’t know much and henna was all the rage. The brown took on a wonderful rich red and the front, blonde strands turned orange.
8. It keeps you warm, makes a fortune for brand name product manufacturers and lures you into a wannabe lifestyle. Would you want to be a L’Oreal woman or a Timotei girl? How many times have you panted like the wenches from the Herbal Essences adverts? It’s good for a laugh. I hate to think how many different sorts of shampoo have graced my locks when basically they are detergents with parabens and petrochemicals. There have been times when I’ve even washed my hair in Fairy Liquid. It’s a bit frothy and leaves a ton of tangles. But you’re left squeaky clean. Shower gel is pretty good too if you’ve run out of shampoo.
9. Hair is such a fun thing. Even if you don’t have much, how many of you have lathered up a goodly froth and given yourself Santa whiskers and a bouffant bubbled coif? I remember as a child that was one of the best things about bath time and getting your hair washed. Sharing the tub with my brother we’d make each other look like idiots and when we had to get out, there were enough suds, if you splashed the water quick enough and hard enough, to slide down the back of the bath. Snuggled up in flannelette pyjamas and wearing towels as turbans while we sat in front of the fire – ah, those were the days.
10. You get older, grow wiser and face calamity with stoicism. It’s either that or hide away. When I was expecting my first child I visited the hairdresser for a perm – big hair was all the rage. Now, this wasn’t a new thing, my mother had permed my hair before, but the rollers and the cooking hood should have alerted me to potential catastrophe. When your hair is newly permed it doesn’t feel like your own. Tight curls feel alien. However, on this occasion the area on the crown crinkled like a Brillo pad. It had to go; it didn’t match the rest of the hair-do.
11. And so, heavily pregnant, and convinced that my hormones had caused the disaster rather than the professional who had attended me, I went to be shorn. “Take as much off as you can,” I said. Clippers and scissors snipped as close to my scalp as possible to get rid of the offending corrugation. For the sake of ‘style’, ahem, she left a little rat’s tail at the back and a feathered fringe to frame my face. It didn’t look great, but it was better than the ‘thing’ I had come in with. I smiled, paid the girl and left the salon fuming inside. £60 in two weeks (30 years ago) for this!
12. To my great embarrassment a photograph taken at the time, shows me a week before my son was born, a week after the ‘remedial haircut’. I look like Bid Daddy the wrestler. While making some cheese on toast, I had checked the eye-level grill. Of course, I leant too close and the new fringe, along with my eyelashes and eyebrows, caught fire. A quick slap to the face soon extinguished them, but the singed smell and burnt texture lingered for a long while. I resigned myself to looking stupid until it grew back, and thanked my parents for my fast-growing hair.
13. By the time I reached hospital to have my baby, my hair had grown ever so slightly and had a marked kink down the Brillo pad band. Nurses on the maternity admissions ward did their usual cheer-you-up spiel and most of them commented on my hair. “Perhaps you’ll have a little punk baby,” one said. I didn’t like to tell her the style wasn’t intentional, you never want to upset anyone who might have the final word on whether you can get painkilling drugs or not. I gave a simpering giggle and thanked her for her observation though all I really wanted to do was groan.
14. At last I gave birth. Junior didn’t have what I’d call real hair, just honey-coloured baby fluff. By the time he was presented to his doting grandparents, my mother insisted on cradling him and playing with him. My poor son, thank god he was only a baby, had to suffer the ignominy of ‘spit curls’ that Mum made by twisting tiny tufts around her finger to make a small coil. It amused her and there wasn’t enough to put a baby brush through. Whenever he returned to my arms, I nuzzled him in close and fluffed away the spit curls, like stroking a puppy.
15. His brother, #3, had an amazing head of hair. People predicted I’d have a hairy baby as I’d been afflicted with the most awful heartburn during the pregnancy. It might be an old wives’ tale, but it was proven true with me. None of my other three children gave me heartburn and none of them had hair like this one. The child had dark brown hair that stood on end. He looked like a toilet brush. This poor little mite didn’t get spit curls, but something worse – the middle parting, spit-flattened Hitler look. I have confessed to him and he can see the amusement we must have had.
16. Babies’ heads, covered in soft down and smelling of milk and Infacare, are such inviting things. Whenever they’re fractious or distressed their little heads sweat and all the agony they are experiencing surfaces on their scalps. Lullabies sung softly, with kisses between verses, gradually soothe the little grumplings and somehow their hair seems to respond. Hmm . . . maybe I’m getting a bit weird now, but that’s the way I remember things. It’s always a difficult decision when you think it’s time your baby had a haircut. It’s admitting they’re no longer an infant and is something you put off for the longest time.
17. Ha! Deciding when to cut their hair – no such a problem when your eldest child, yes, the first-born son finds a pair of scissors. My daughter had gorgeous blonde hair, growing long enough to put into a cute ponytail. While hovering the carpet in the living room I came across a bundle of blonde hair. Odd, I thought, and carried on. She pranced in and asked for a treat – she didn’t look any different . . . until she turned away and the whole centre, back of her hair had been cut. Bid brother had lopped off her ponytail as they played.
18. My last child, I suppose, did have hair. More than his eldest brother, less than the toilet brush baby and in the most amazing copper colour. It didn’t last. After the baby fuzz wore away on his pillow, beautiful blond curls eventually tumbled round his face. Oh, I didn’t want to get his hair cut and fortunately, the curls stopped it from looking too long and girly. Once it did get cut though, he kept it very short for years. Now he’s at university and has decided long hair is cool. His friends call him Zeus and he’s the envy of all his female friends.
19. Long, short, dyed or permed my own hair has survived the most awful abuse. I take it for granted and whenever I go to the hairdresser I don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out quite as anticipated, within two or three weeks it will have outgrown the style anyway. I’m lucky that it is coarse, with a natural kink, thick and well-behaved ordinarily. I can straighten it with irons, curl it with tongs, let it dry naturally to hang in waves; it is the most versatile stuff. Parted in the middle, to the left or the right, swept back, fringed or not, I could be a master of disguise.
20. Hair – the nesting place of head lice. Oh yeah, nits! When you teach in a Primary school you’re bound to bring home some of the delightful little head friends. One of my colleagues used to organise reading time with the children sat in a semi-circle he had drawn on the floor in chalk – the nit line. No one was allowed to advance over it as he listened to them read. He’d found that when he heard them at his desk, their heads were so close, the leaping lice made easy jumps. Ooh, the thought of them is making me itch.
21. I suppose it’s like dogs having fleas; you just have to scratch and if you don’t you’re driven demented. Dog hair supplies the main content for my vacuum cleaner bag. At one time, our tri-colour dog, caster extraordinaire, had created furry stairs. They’re not practical by the way, too easy to slip on. When I lived in London the dog came too, though I wasn’t allowed to keep her in my rented accommodation. My friend who took her in is still finding hair, years later. Good old Leah, with hair colour to show up on anything you wore, God bless her.
22. Split ends used to be a worry when elastic bands were all you had to tie your hair up. Well, you could use a ribbon, but ribbons always came undone and fell off. Thank goodness the scrunchies and hair ties available now don’t tear your tresses to bits as they’re dragged from a matted mess. I can remember having to get elastic bands cut out of my hair on more than one occasion. It usually accompanied a good scolding, though why I don’t really know—hair just does its own thing during the day. I didn’t deliberately make it tatty.
23. The children call me ‘Clunk’, among many other fond names they have for me, because I have a tendency to bang my head on car boot doors or low rafters; anything within my height range is a fair target for me. Having a reasonably high threshold of pain, I wince, give the area rub and carry on with what I was doing. While we were doing renovations, with plaster dust and grit everywhere, it was impossible to avoid having matted hair, even if you wore a baseball cap. During this time, most nights when I brushed my hair there was a lump or two, gritty scabs and general scalp annoyance . . .
24. At last the work was finished and in a tidy room, grit and plaster free, I slathered moisturiser into my thirsty skin and decided to straighten my hair to neaten my appearance. As I ran the comb through my hair I noticed a ‘gap’. It wasn’t along the scar line and I explored it a little more. A tiny patch, the size of my little fingernail, looked bald. I thought perhaps one of my clunks during the renovations had done more damage than I had realised at the time and that perhaps a small scab had dropped off. But something wasn’t right. It was too smooth.
25. I kept an eye on the area each time I washed my hair and noticed the patch had become larger. It was now the size of a twenty pence piece and the skin underneath it was completely hairless. Odd, I thought. It’ll grow back. It always does – or so I thought. They next inspections showed the disc shaped bare patch had grown to the size of a fifty pence piece. Time to Google. Oh, dammit! Alopecia Areata – the pictures mirrored my hair loss pattern, the symptoms of tightness, tugging and pain, which I had put down to an unacknowledged clunk, matched.
26. Oh doctor, I’m in trouble . . . my GP referred me to a dermatologist who confirmed the diagnosis. The treatment? What treatment? It’ll either grow back . . . or it won’t. However, there are tiny white hairs I can see and that’s a good sign. They will fall out and normal hair should return – sometime. By now the patch on my crown was the size of the bottom of a pint glass. Luckily I was sporting a long hairstyle at the time and made the most of a side parting to comb over the bald patch, which I could clip securely into place.
27. Steroid creams, suggested for use didn’t help at all. The tight sensation had stopped and soft fuzz had begun to grow. I ordered some magic powder online to sprinkle over the area and hoped it would cling to the newborn hairs and reduce the shine from my pink skin. I researched the problem, ordered essential oils, collagen supplements, magic shampoo, vitamin supplements and lots of hairspray to stick the comb over in place – wind is your worst enemy. I thanked my genes for thick hair. If this happened to anyone with thin hair there’d be no chance at disguise or camouflage.
28. It grew back – all of it. Halleluiah and happy days, perhaps now I could go to hairdresser and get it cut into an actual style. Er . . . no. Unknown to me, there were other little bald patches around the side of my head and at the back too. Nowhere near as large as the one on the top of my head, but enough for me to retain my shoulder length locks – just in case. In time, these too went through their fine white/grey stage before producing normal, healthy hair. Could it have been caused by stress? You betcha.
29. Concerned other sneaky little Alopecia playmates might make a mockery of me, any time I felt tingling or tension I ran to the mirror to inspect my scalp. In the bath I checked the amount of hair stuck to my hands after I finger-combed through my hair conditioner. It was hard to calculate; long hair looks like so much compared to the same number of strands of short hair. Once I’d peeled the hair from my hands I set it on the side of the tub so that I could see how much there was altogether after I cleared the plughole.
30. A veritable snake of hair indicates its back again. Ugh! Been there done that, Can’t I move on. Hmm, grey springs sprouting like manic pubes – not a good look. I stand before the mirror, trying to work out of I need my glasses on for this or not. Glasses on – everything is a blur. Glasses off – close inspection is impossible. I curse and guide the pair of tweezers toward the offending strand. As individual strands, plucked with tweezers, which hurts like hell, they appear beautiful. Imagine that, removing hair when you’re losing it. Which beggars the question – am I really losing it?