Thursday, July 27, 2006

Stuck in the middle (class) with you

Earlier this week, Fel and I went to "Take A Break Tales", a comedy show based on stories from Take A Break magazine. It was indeed very funny, featuring such stories as a woman's incest with her teenage son, and a widow convinced her son was communicating with her dead husband through the medium (ha) of a horse. But suddenly, I was reminded of the closing words of the first series of Peep Show, which are along the lines of "When this is over, I'm going to feel empty inside."

You see, I spend a good proportion (scientists have estimated it at 9 per cent) of my life snickering at chavs such as these. Oh look - they've had 13 children and want a bigger council house! Ha ha, they're dressed in top to toe Lacoste! How I chuckle, and sip more blue mountain coffee, before leaning back and lighting a Sobranie with a twenty pound note.

The flip side of this, of course, is paralysing middle class guilt. At university, we used to have a cleaner who came in every morning and emptied the bins, cleaned the loo, etc. I could never get used to this. The standard procedure was to leave your bin outside the door if you didn't want to be disturbed, but I hated doing this. Instead, I used to lie in bed, dozing peacefully, until I heard the knock on the door, regular as clockwork, at ten to eight.

Then I'd leap out of bed, pull on my dressing gown and run for the chair, where I could rest my head on my hand and chew a pencil thoughtfully, while poring over some notes I'd spread out the night before for just this eventuality.

Then Ray would come in, empty the bin, give me the update on his prostate problems ("oh yes, blood in the old urine again") and retire, at which point I would go back to bed for three hours.

The reason for this ridiculous daily charade was that I had convinced myself that Ray would despise me as a Brideshead Revisited-style toff if I left my bin outside the door, or (worse) received him in bed like some kind of Eastern potentate. Of course, he never gave any indication this was the case, and probably wondered why I always looked so rough and was reading my notes upside-down.

Of course it was all in my head, all about me. And, if I'd avoided being snobby, I was certainly running the risk of being patronising. I'm not sure he appreciated my grunting attempts at conversation. I just couldn't escape the feeling of condescension, whatever I did. So I kept bolting out of bed at ten to eight.

But tell me, oh my middle class readers, do you not do the same when you go to, say, have your hair cut? The hairdresser has no interest in your life, your holidays - and you have no interest in theirs. Why then do you feel compelled to make conversation?

I've decided this must stop. My hairdresser probably hates hearing my dull anecdotes just as much as I hate telling them. Instead, I'm going to use the time far more productively - by catching up on my Grazia reading.

(In case you are wondering how I can read a magazine while having my nails done, well, I can't. But I use the nail bar at the end of my street. It is staffed entirely by Chinese women who speak no English. A coward's solution, but effective.)


Anonymous taste said...

Hairdresser etiquette eh? (And hairdresser you’ll note, none of this ‘barber’ malarkey – if you’re not going to get some free, head massage action thrown in for your money, what’s the bloody point?)

I find it differs radically depending on who’s doing the wig-removal operation. I used to have a hairdresser I knew frighteningly well. To the point where we’d bump into one another in the pub and not be mortally embarrassed. Imagine. Talking, then, over my thread-bare scalp, was not a serious problem… Well, apart from the fact that we were both male and sober.

Lately though, having moved far from Friendly Hair Man, I’ve found the key is to take a book along and wield it like a shield. Amazingly, if you’re aching polite about it they’re happy, excited even, to let you read away to your heart’s content. The occasional yelp as they slice off an ear not really counting as conversational interaction in my opinion.

Unless, that is, there’s a major sporting event or international tragedy going down (hopefully both). Here’s it’s crucial to engage your hair-engineer, for much like taxi drivers, but without the swearing, they are keepers of truly incredible perspectives that should never, ever be missed.

7/27/2006 6:03 pm  
Blogger Paul B said...

Blokes in barbers have it right. In my local barber's conversation is at a minimum. I just stare impassively at the mirror and reply briefly to any platitudes.

Plus barber's shops don't have that awful smell of hairspray and lacquer that permeates the high street from any women's salon.

And I never had class issues with my scout. If any of us got a bit snooty with her, she'd just give them a clip round the ear and refuse to do their bins for a week. She was a tough nut, was our Maureen.

7/28/2006 7:56 am  
Anonymous lb said...

Never had a good haircut from a female hairdresser for some reason - my hair seems to require the firm touch of a man (perhaps my hair's gay, or something).

On another note, we also had cleaners, who treated us all with utter contempt whether we were from state-school backgrounds (I think I met...ooh, about three others in the entire university) or shockingly upper-middle and called Tarquin, as indeed an acquaintance of mine was. Anyway, the cleaners regarded us with a completely impassive demeanour, as if they were on a work placement from the Khmer Rouge. They weren't even fazed when I had a bout of tonsillitis and was violently ill into my wastebin.

7/28/2006 10:01 am  
Blogger Colemanballs said...

Because our scout had a bad back, every morning I would help carry the 4 tonne hover up three flight of stairs and even help with some of the cleaning if the guilt was particularly bad. I even bought her a Xmas present to say thank you.

And what did she do? Report me for burning candles in my room. Nice.

7/28/2006 11:16 am  
Blogger galatea said...

You'll notice the scout problem only really arose in the third year. This is because my first year Scout, "Dirty Vi", once recounted to me the tale of how she had got incredibly drunk on her birthday and decided to sneak into college and use the loo on my landing.

Unfortunately, a heavy dinner had taken its toll on her intestinal health, and the booze had affected her balance, resulting in her... crapping on the floor.

So far, so yuk, but sadly she had then slipped in the aforementioned excrement, and chinned herself on the loo seat.

"Look at that," she said, gurning at me, oblivious to my ever-increasing rictus of horror. "I chipped me bloody veneer!"

After that, I had far less compunction about leaving the bin outside the door.

7/28/2006 11:39 am  
Blogger Brit in Hokkaido said...

I had a brilliant hairdresser in London who basically said that she only does her best work when she is not forced to make small talk whilst cutting hair, so could she please skip the enforced small talk aout holiday destinations. As recompense she would give me a head massage.

Best haircut I ever had, I only had to answer questions about my hair!

7/28/2006 11:53 am  
Blogger Léonie said...

I was petrified of my cleaner at University. She was called Maria and went around openly judging us all on the basis of the cleanliness of our rooms. Once she called me 'filthy' (not in the good way) and I hid from her everytime I saw her from then on.

I always feel like hairdressers hate me because I always have terrible, terrible split-end-ridden hair by the time I venture into their clutches. They bollock me, and I spend the rest of the time hoping desperately that they won't do my hair in big, asymmetrically cut and dyed chunks, which seems always to be the style they themselves favour, but feeling to severely told off to actually ask for what I want.

Looking at these two examples it seems that I live in fear of anyone in the service industry. This might explain why I am morbidly afraid of lollipop ladies.

7/28/2006 12:03 pm  
Blogger Léonie said...

I meant to say 'mortally afraid', I think. Or did I? I'm not sure, my brain had frozen with terror at the thought of Maria and her judgemental cleaning practices.

7/28/2006 12:05 pm  
Blogger H said...

Ah, the old banal salon conversation avoidance dilemma. Try closing your eyes, breathing in deeply and assuming a pseudo trance/meditation state, in manner of manic stressed-out career-frenzied mentalist taking opportunity to get in touch with her inner calm.

Alternatively, pointless or random commentary is always guaranteed to ensure conversational exile. "Did you know that the concept of the TV series `Lost'is actually based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's `Social Contract', a document which defined the fundamental principles behind the French Revolution?". Cue tumbleweeds....

Alternativley, get your mum to cut it. The basin is back.

7/28/2006 12:07 pm  
Blogger Mouldy said...

I've tried just staying completely quiet at the hair-dressers but it doesn't work. They chime in with "Are ya going out tonight?" and then you have to answer.

Its also a little bit more complicated for me cos I am half deaf on one side. So I can't hear what she says on the right so I just nod and smile. It could get me in all sorts of trouble.

The cleaner thing is interesting. We had a small lady called Jenny who for some reason formed a strong attachment to me. She always did all our washing up for us and used to bring me presents. Maybe she felt some solidarity because I was the only student not from the Home Counties and we both had strong accents. Who knows? She even stayed in touch and used to come and visit in the second year. But then she got cancer.

Oh well.

7/28/2006 12:14 pm  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Oh god, hairdressers... I only go to one hairdresser: an old schoolfriend back in my hometown, and that's as much for a catch-up as anything. But 95 per cent of the time I cut it at home, usually with Wife's help. Why? Because the last time I went to a non-schoolfriend hairdresser, she asked what I did.

"I'm an editor, on books and magazines," I said, knowing that this northern Kent lass wouldn't have the first idea what that meant, and I really didn't want to have to explain. "My boyfriend collects books," she replied. "Oh, yes?" I said. "Would you mind just stabbing those scissors really hard into my jugular now, please, because the way I see this conversation is going, I'd rather be dead."

"Yes, he's got all those new Lord of the Rings ones, y'know, the special releases. Leather ones..." And so it went. And this is the true and dull story of why I no longer frequent hairdressers (other than those who are my friends).

7/28/2006 6:37 pm  
Anonymous flawedgalatea said...

Brit - I feel ever so guilty about having head massages, because I enjoy them too much. I think if someone's going to give you that much pleasure, you should at least buy her dinner first.

And h, I'm seriously considering the scary conversation gambit to put hairdressers off talking to me. Maybe pretend I collect and catalogue my own earwax. I heard about someone once who did that.

7/28/2006 8:16 pm  
Blogger Brit in Hokkaido said...


You would not like Japan; head massages come as standard with a haircut and tipping is not the done thing. It is considered rude.

I know what you mean though, it does make you feel kind of guilty...

7/29/2006 11:58 pm  
Blogger domeheid said...

I sometimes felt the need to jump out of bed and hand my bin to my scout. Other times I'd hide under the covers pretending to be asleep. I felt really lazy when that happened, though. Maybe they just do it as a wake-up call to make sure we're up before lunch.

I hate smalltalk anywhere; not just the hairdresser's. I'm quite anti-social and give really uninteresting and unexpansive answers. I don't drink and don't go out, so my responses to their bog standard questions tend to be limited.

Does anyone else wear glasses? I sometimes remember to put my contact lenses in when I go for a haircut, otherwise I'm unable to see the sheering in progress. I hate the way they style your hair afterwards. I've got to the stage where I refuse to be blown dry or stuck under a head radiator after the rinse of loose hairs (which I have to request). I usually duck into the nearest toilet and restyle as soon as possible after leaving the salon. Why do they always make you look like a fuzzy-haired dick (or is it that I always look that way)?

Tipping: I always give hairdressers a quid and say, "And that's for you." Bit silly, though, when I'm already paying about 34 quid. Maybe it's BECAUSE I tip them that they style my hair badly.

I love head massages. I like that comment by flawedgalatea about feeling guilty for enjoying them too much, feeling as if one should buy her dinner first if one is going to be given that much pleasure.

7/31/2006 3:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good blog.

8/05/2006 11:57 am  

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