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All the Fun of the Fair
by Sheila Cornelius

Books are useful defences against all that life throws at you. My favourite author’s Stephen King, but anything in that line suits. Still, reading a book doesn’t shield you from other people’s interference, even at the hairdressers.

When Carlotta announced ‘I’ve never regretted going strawberry blonde,’ brushing stray hairs from her cleavage, I put the book aside. The colour reminded me of marmalade, not strawberries. The clippings round her feet were like the aftermath of a cat fight. 

‘Now then, what can we do for you today?’ Jackie, the manageress at 'Uppercuts', began to lift strands of my hair, sighing and rolling her eyes. It’s all part of a hairdresser’s craft, undermining the customer's confidence. Even when they’re not very persuasive themselves, the TV ads do the job for them.

‘Just the usual trim, I suppose?’ I simply nodded at her reflection.

‘You should try it,’ Carlotta said, looking at me sideways as Jackie held up a hand mirror to the back of her head. ‘A change of colour will change your life.’ Carlotta had more or less internalised all the TV make-over programmes.

‘At my age?’

‘You’re as old as you feel, and as young as you can pull!’ She wriggled, making the seat revolve. A woman under the dryer rustled her ‘Hello’ magazine.

‘I’ll tell you what - see how you get on with highlights, for starters. My treat!’

I nearly retorted, ‘I’ve no wish to look like a zebra,’ but she’s been a good neighbour. Ken said as much when I was away looking after my mother.

‘It’ll lighten more than just your hair,’ she insisted.

She was right – our lives did change. Especially when Carlotta signed up Ken and me for the social club. Being stuck in front of the box night after night can get boring, as she said, and we were stuck in a groove.

‘He’s a diamond geezer, your Ken,’ she giggled on our way back from line-dancing, tottering against him so his hat tipped sideways. Ken acted like any man would and got a good eyeful of what was on offer. He’s a soft target.

Next time at "Uppercuts", all it took was a miniature gin bottle full of thick bleach, sneaked in under a copy of The Devil and Mary Ann and added it to the mix when Jackie was in the back. The damage was only really apparent when Carlotta came out from under the dryer. I’d gone by then, but she was in hysterics, according to Jackie, who gave her a cup of tea and lent her a headscarf.

Carlotta’s keen to dye the stubble as soon as possible, but Jackie said no more bleach until her scalp’s recovered. She can’t show her face at the club. Never mind I tell her, what with all the money she’ll save on haircuts she can afford a new handbag; or I could recommend a good book to help her while away the time.