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Heads or Tails: Tails by f35h

She led me out of the office and about fifty yards down the street. We turned down a narrow side street and found ourselves in front of an old terraced house, yellowing net curtains in the window and a faded sign reading ‘Valerie’s Hair Fashions. Traditional and Modern Ladies’ Hairdressing.’

"Come on, in you go." She prompted me.

"But this is a ladies’ hairdresser!" I protested.

"Well if you wanted to go to a barber’s, you should have done it earlier." She replied, flatly. "You’re going in there, and you’re going to have that hair cut, and that’s an end to it. Go on."


My immediate feeling on seeing the coin come up ‘tails’ had been relief. I wouldn’t have to go to Harvey’s, and I had, of course, promised myself that I would abide by the coin’s decision. So even if I’d wanted to, I thought smugly, I was now honour bound not to.

I’d dithered a bit, but decided that as my stated aim was ‘try to avoid a haircut’, I should do my best not to antagonise Mum. I’d washed my face, put on the freshly ironed uniform that she had left me, and grudgingly dragged comb through my dampened hair, even attempting to put a parting in.

I didn’t think for a moment that I would fool Mum, but maybe if I looked a bit smarter, then she’d - somehow - ignore the fact that I hadn’t been to the barbers.

I caught the bus into town and sauntered along to Mum’s office. I was a bit early, but I figured I could just sit in the reception area, and keep out of the way.


"Andrew, isn’t it?" The stern looking lady at the desk addressed me.

"Oh, er, yes. I, er, I’m here to meet Mum. Er. Mrs. Mitchell. She, er."

"Yes, your mother told me to look out for you." She eyed me critically. "Speech day today?"

"Er, yes. Er, Miss."

She frowned at me. "I am not one of your teachers. You may call me Mrs. Protheroe." She looked at me pointedly.

"Oh, er, yes, Mrs. Protheroe. Sorry."

"That’s better. Now, your mother told me that you had strict instructions to go to the barbers, Andrew. Surely you’re not going to tell me that he left your hair looking like that?"

"Er, no. Um. I, er, I suppose I must have forgotten." I mumbled.

"I see. Well, your mother asked me to let her know when you arrived, and whether you had been given an acceptable haircut." She glared at me. I said nothing, just looked at the floor.

"But her meeting with the directors has overrun. I can’t interrupt that, certainly not for something as silly as a boy who hasn’t been to the barbers."

I briefly wondered if I was, in fact, going to get away with this. If Mum’s meeting was still going in another half an hour, then there would be no time for her to take me to the barbers. I sneaked a glance at my watch. Mrs. Protheroe followed my eyes.

"We really don’t have time to wait for her, though, do we." She mused. "It’s clear that your hair is nowhere near acceptable, so I’d better take care of it directly."

She stood up from behind the desk and walked briskly past me to a door. She opened it and called through.

"Marjorie? Could you come and cover reception for an hour or so? I need to run an errand."

She turned back to me. "Come on! Don’t just sit there. We need to get that disgraceful hair sorted out." She pulled a scarf from her handbag and tied it firmly over her immaculate helmet of iron grey curls.

I stood, reluctantly. It seemed like I wasn’t going to get away with this after all. And whilst I had no idea what this formidable woman had in mind for me, I suspected that I was going to end up with a very short haircut.


A bell rang as I reluctantly pushed open the door and entered. I was greeted by the built up smell of years of perm solution, setting lotion and hairspray. There was faded lino on the floor, and a tatty black and chrome padded chair in front of a mirror. An old enamel sink sat in one corner and a couple of old-fashioned hood dryers occupied one wall. Underneath one of them was an old lady, her white hair rolled up on pink curlers and covered with a hairnet. She peered up curiously from her knitting as we entered.

A second lady bustled through from the back room, presumably alerted by the bell. She was wearing a pink and white nylon smock and looked about 60, though her stiffly lacquered auburn bouffant showed no trace of white.

"Morning, Doris." She said brusquely. "What’s all this, then?" She nodded at me as she approached us.

"Hello Valerie. This is Mrs. Mitchell’s son." Mrs. Protheroe - Doris - began.

"Looks more like her daughter." Valerie snorted, reaching out and tugging at the hair hanging over my collar. "Put him in a skirt and some hair-ribbons and he’d fit right in at St. Teresa’s." I blushed.

"Well, yes, exactly." replied Doris, sounding exasperated. "It’s speech day at the grammar school, and he was supposed to go to the barbers this morning, but he apparently forgot." Sarcasm dripped from her voice, and I turned a deeper shade of pink.

"We haven’t got much time," she continued, "so I hoped you’d be able to get him tidied up? I know you don’t normally do men, but, well, it’s a bit of an emergency."

"You’re right there." Valerie replied. "I don’t do men."

For the briefest of moments, I again wondered if fate was somehow going to let me get away with this, but she turned and gave me an evil grin. "Boys, on the other hand, especially scruffy, grubby little boys who won’t go to the barbers, well, I get a few of them."

"Oh, that’s a relief." Doris sighed. "So you’re used to dealing with this kind of thing?"

Valerie’s grin grew wider. "Oh yes. You’d be surprised how often one of my regulars drags in a grandson or nephew whose hair has been allowed to get out of control. I sit them down and give them the haircut they need, and I don’t put up with any nonsense."

She turned to me. "In the chair with you, and I don’t want to hear a word. Clear?"

Taken aback by her domineering attitude, I shuffled towards the chair and nervously perched on the edge.

"All the way back." Valerie grabbed my shoulders and pulled me backwards. A flowery nylon cape was flicked over me and fastened tightly around my neck.

She grabbed a comb from the counter and dragged it hard through my hair, ignoring my wincing as she fought through tangles. She turned to Doris.

"His hair is filthy. He needs a good wash."

Doris glanced at her watch. "Fine. We should have time for that."

Valerie wasted no time and led me over to the old sink. She sat me down and bent me over so that my head hovered over the basin and sluiced it with not very warm water. Medicinal smelling shampoo followed and strong fingers scrubbed at my head.

"These ears are filthy, too, and your neck. What is it with you boys?" She muttered. "Are you all afraid of soap and water as well as comb and scissors?" I felt a bar of soap being rubbed hard behind my ears and around the back of my neck.

"Ow!" I yelped.

"Quiet!" Valerie admonished me, scrubbing harder.

"This is what happens when you let a boy’s hair get too long." She remarked grimly to Doris. "Quite apart from looking a mess, they stop washing properly and the hair hides all the dirt."

More lukewarm water rinsed away the suds and I was marched back to the chair, an old towel wrapped around my head. My hair was briskly combed through again and my chin pushed down into my chest.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Valerie pick up a pair of clippers and gulped. If I hadn’t known before, I certainly did now; I wasn’t going to be getting away with a little trim here.

There was a sharp buzzing noise as the clippers sprang to life and I felt them bite into my hairline. Valerie ran them ruthlessly up the back of my head, allowing the hair to tumble over my right shoulder and onto my lap.

"He’s getting a short back and sides." She remarked to Doris. It was clear that she was telling Doris, not asking her, and certainly wasn’t interested in what I might think.

"That’s perfect. As long as he’s tidy, Mrs. Mitchell will be happy."

"Oh, he’ll be tidy all right. Don’t you worry about that."

The clippers had stripped away all the hair from the back of my head, and she was working her way around my ears. This certainly felt as short as any haircut I could remember getting at Harvey’s.

My head was lifted back up and the clippers, their work done, were silenced and replaced on their hook. She picked up her comb and scissors, and started to remove the bulk of the hair from the top of my head.

"I really don’t understand why all you boys want to look so dirty and scruffy." She scolded me. "I’m sure your mother is a busy woman, and you could make her life a bit easier by actually going to the barbers when she tells you, and having a decent haircut."

I kept quiet, not wanting to antagonise her any further, and watched the clumps of hair slide down into my lap. I saw her return the scissors to the counter, and pick up instead a pair of thinning shears, their toothed blades catching the fluorescent light.

She thrashed vigorously at my hair, the teeth tugging painfully, but at least briefly.

"That should stay a bit tidier." She remarked, dragging her comb through my heavily thinned out hair. She combed it straight down, and cut a fringe high on my forehead, smiling with satisfaction.

"And out of his eyes." She traced a clean, straight parting down the left hand side of my head, and forced the hair away on each side.

"That’s how a boy’s hair ought to look." Valerie pronounced. "Smart enough for you, Doris?"

"Oh yes, thank you so much." Mrs. Protheroe replied. "Mrs. Mitchell will be very happy, I’m sure."

"Well, we need to make sure it stays like this." I suddenly felt some cold liquid being shaken over my head and combed through. I supposed, vaguely, that this didn’t seem as unpleasant as the brylcreem that Mum used to ask for at Harvey’s, but I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

"Ouch! What are you doing?"

"Quiet, boy. I’m putting some grips in so that your hair stays neat under the dryer. If you’d gone to the barber’s, you’d have had Brylcreem, but this is a ladies’ hairdresser’s, so you’re going under the hood, like everyone else."

She shoved a third metal hairgrip in and then stretched an old brown hairnet over my hair. She glared at me, daring me to complain. I decided that there was nothing to be gained, and meekly followed her over to the dryers.

She sat me down next to the old lady, who had put down her knitting and was grinning broadly at my discomfort.

"Heh!" She cackled. "That’s a proper boy’s haircut she’s given you. I should bring my grandsons down here. Their hair is just awful. I can’t stand the way they’re always flicking it out of their eyes."

"Bring them down, Mavis." Valerie told her. "They won’t have hair in their eyes when I’m done with them."

She pulled the dryer down over my head and I was engulfed in a gale of warm air.



"Yes Mrs. Mitchell?"

"Where’s Doris?"

"Oh, she asked me to cover for her. Said she had an errand to run. She, er, had a teenage boy with her, I think?"

"Oh, that would be Andrew. It’s speech day at school, that’s why I’ve got the afternoon off. He was supposed to go to the barbers. Did you, er, happen to notice if his hair looked, well, presentable?"

"Um. Well, I, er."

Mrs. Mitchell sighed. "I’m afraid I’m not surprised. I was expecting to have to take him myself, but of course, the meeting overran." She looked exasperated.

"I suppose that Doris may have taken matters into her own hands." She mused. "I just hope he didn’t give her any trouble."


"Sit there, don’t move, and don’t touch your hair." She glared at me, waiting for an answer.

"Yes, Mrs. Protheroe." I replied, dutifully, taking the same seat as before.

"Thank you Marjorie, sorry I had to disrupt your day."

"Oh, not at all. I can see that the time was very well spent. I’ll tell Mrs. Mitchell that you’re back. She said she wanted to see you." She smirked at me as she walked back to her own desk.


I had spent what seemed like an eternity under the dryer, getting hotter and hotter, whilst Valerie removed the old lady’s hairnet and rollers and fussed with her curls, finishing her off with several long blasts of hairspray.

I had then received pretty much the same treatment, minus the curls, but including the hairspray, despite my protests.

"Bring him back any time, if you need to, Doris." Valerie smirked. "But I rather fancy he’ll be a bit better at going to the barber’s now."

She removed the flowery cape and I stood up, reaching to feel my hair. She gave my hand a sharp slap.

"Hands off! It’s nice and tidy, I don’t want you messing it up!"

"What do you say, Andrew?" Mrs. Protheroe glared at me.

"Oh, um. Sorry. And. er." I paused, but she was still glaring at me. "Er, thank you for my haircut, er, Miss."

Valerie rolled her eyes. "I’ve not been a ‘Miss’ for a long time."

She turned to Doris. "I’ll put it on Mrs. Mitchell’s account."


"My, now, that’s what I call a haircut!" I couldn’t quite judge Mum’s tone of voice. Was she pleased? Annoyed? Amused?

"Did you take him to Harveys?"

"No, I didn’t think there was time." Doris explained. "This is Valerie’s work."

"Oh my! She does know how to cut a boy’s hair. And that would explain the smell of hairspray. I hope he didn’t give you any trouble?"

"Oh, no, Mrs. Mitchell. Though it was mostly Valerie. She really doesn’t stand for any nonsense."

"No, I can imagine that." Mum replied thoughtfully. "Mrs. Protheroe?"

"Yes, Mrs. Mitchell?"

"How would you like to take on a little extra job for me?"

"Do you mean…?"

"Yes. Taking Andrew to have his hair cut. Every three weeks, I think."

"Er, Mum…" I started to protest. She just ignored me.

Mrs. Protheroe grinned. "I think I might quite enjoy that. Do you want him taken to Harvey’s, or Valerie?"

"I think I’ll leave that up to you." Mum smiled. "Whatever you think is best."

I looked from one to the other, horrified.

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