Having Hair

It all started over a pint of peanut butter milkshake. For the twenty-seventh time in seven and a half months, I take the piss out of Mike’s luscious locks of red hair. They reach to his shoulders in opalescent curls and have to be flicked out of his face whenever he laughs, which is often and loud. I know that taking the piss out of a man with long hair is childish and lazy, but I am both of those, so it seemed appropriate.

But there must have been something about that twenty-seventh insult because, instead of brushing it off like so many fallen leaves, he leans in over the milkshakes and says: ‘I’ll be cutting it soon.’

Like a wingey child who instantly regrets his playground cruelty, I shudder in alarm: ‘Why! It’s a part of you, Mikey – you can’t do it! How will I recognise you?’
‘Because,’ he replied, ‘I am making a wig…’
I laugh and start to say, ‘Who would want a curly ginger wig!’
But he cuts me off (pun alert): ‘…For little girls who have cancer.’
Oh. I felt so bad that I vowed there and then to do the same myself.

Little did I realise that my careless promise would involve eighteen months of hard work, as my lazy follicles strain to reach the requisite seven inches of cut-offable hair.

June 2011

Now, as I stand on the cusp of returning to the normal world of normal hair, what have I learnt?

There are many phases to growing hair. There is the initial phase where nothing is happening. My hair was just growing, silently. I’d done a one-inch buzz cut a couple of weeks before the fateful promise, so during the first four months it grew to a normal length and nobody noticed.

August 2011

Then I started to look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo for another month or so before something extraordinary happened. It poofed. Suddenly, without warning, my hair was cool. It stuck out all over the place and adolescent girls on the street walked past me, shouting things like, ‘Look at that guy’s hair – it’s so cool!’

November 2011

It wasn’t to last, of course. Spring brought a growth-spurt, the poof fell in on itself and I was left with serious eye-flop.

May 2012

Over the course of the summer it struggled manfully towards Kurt Cobain, defined as the point at which long man hair becomes cool. But Kurt Cobain is dangerous territory. It could, under certain conditions, look awesome. It could also be a total pain in the ass.

November 2012

If I managed to eat breakfast without getting beans in my hair, it was a good day. Brushing my teeth took on a new angle: literally. I had to tilt my head to one side – like a GIRL – to flop my hair out of the reach of my toothbrush. It didn’t always work. Last night I dreamt of getting my hair stuck between my teeth, like dental floss – and it was a realistic dream. Any form of exercise had to be undertaken with a Bjorn Borg headband, which looked cool, until it didn’t.

The petty practicalities I never quite got the hang of. When to wash hair? How often to wash hair? What do you mean the hair blocks up the drain! It takes two years to dry instead of two seconds? There were times when my hair actually felt uncomfortable to wear after washing. It was dry and brittle and set my skin on edge whenever I touched it. Then someone told me to use conditioner. That helped. But it still looked puffy after washing and I was only happy with it about two days after a wash – by which time it needed washing again.

I had to learn how to brush hair – and that hurts! I learnt that if you hold the hair, then you can stop the hair brush from ripping from the root. I learnt the different in pull between a comb and a hair brush (thanks Cat for the hair brush donation). I learnt that hair gets everywhere, picking it off chairs, books, faces. I learnt about the smell of hair, the smell of grease, hanging down into my face.

Whatever my hair was doing, it wasn’t normal. I had joined an exclusive gentleman’s club of long-haired don’t-give-a-fuck dudes. Look at all those dorks who buzz cut their hair every month and for what? So they can carry on looking like every other dork on the street.

Hair on a man equals rocker, hippie, celeb, hipster – depending on where you are and what else you’re wearing. I am none of these things, so I felt like an imposter, as if I’d had a hair transplant from the eighties. That didn’t stop drunk people shouting at me in the Underground: ‘Look – it’s Allan Carr’s mate!’

Long hair was also most useful for my secret life as an undercover cop, instantly putting multiple disguises at my disposal. Hair up, hair down? Hat hair, bandanna hair? Top knot, pony tail?

I had assumed that I would become a hate figure for street urchins, but the worst came when a Tunisian lad squinted up at my beard and asked, ‘Are you man or woman?’ One of my ex-girlfriends refused to even look at me, demanding that I tie up the offending hair and squash it under a hat: ‘Better.’

More favourably, only last week I drew comparisons to Brad Pitt in the new Chanel adverts. But I still prefer the Kurt Cobain. I remember, when I was twelve years old, my sister telling me that (being blonde) I should grow my hair to emulate the suicidal pop star. I didn’t of course; I wanted to be normal as well back then. Well, she finally got her wish.

Now it is cut. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it next. I did quite enjoy the poof-phase, but it’s not for grown ups. On the other hand, the first comment my hair-dresser makes is, ‘You’re going bald!’ So maybe I will grow it out again, for the comb-over.

Long hair is an identity. I’d never had to identify with my hair like that before. It wasn’t an identity that I had chosen, but society foisted that identity upon me. The long-haired outsider. It was an entertaining eighteen months and maybe I feel like less of a person now I’m back with the short stuff. But then again, as my house-mate says, ‘A hairstyle is not a lifestyle.’

Now, for those of you with more patience than sense, a video of my locks being hacked. Warning: High pitched squawking may distress farmyard animals and the nervous of disposition.

UPDATE (September 2020)

I’ve now donated my hair on no less than five occasions – but perhaps for the last time. The comb-over has become too extreme!

  • January 2013
  • June 2014
  • August 2016
  • May 2018
  • September 2020

Hopefully that repays my piss-taking guilt, Mikey!

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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