Christmas is coming! Why not get into the festive spirit with the first chapter from Carole Matthews’ Christmas classic, Wrapped Up In You.
Mrs Norman comes in to see me at Cutting Edge at ten o’clock every Friday morning without fail. She likes to look nice for the
weekend as she goes ballroom dancing on Friday and Saturday nights at the Conservative club and, since Mr Norman died two years ago, she’s on the lookout for a new man. Someone neat. Someone who doesn’t drink. Someone exactly like Mr Norman. Life alone, she reminds me every week, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Tell me about it.
Methodically, I comb her age-thinned hair into neat sections and put the last of the rollers into her old-fashioned, brick-set
hairdo. I’d like to do something radical to her hair that would take a few years off her and maybe help her snare that elusive
man. Put on a bit of honey-coloured mousse to warm the silver grey perhaps, or cut it so that it sweeps forward and feathers
onto her face. But Mrs Norman will not be swayed. She knows what she likes – tight sausages of curls and a can of lacquer to
hold it in place – and has had the same immovable hairstyle for the last ten years that I’ve been doing it.
Mind you, if I didn’t work in a hairdressing salon, perhaps I’d stick to the same cut too. As it is, I let the juniors practise on me with varying degrees of success. Now I am a block-coloured brunette, a rich chocolate brown the colour of my eyes, with a chippy pixie cut. But I have had many incarnations in the past twenty years. I think this suits me more than some of my other styles (the curly perm was a memorable mistake) as my face is small, heart-shaped and my skin pale. I haven’t embraced the whole fake tan thing – way too much trouble. Plus, who wants to smell like a rotting apple every time you apply it?
‘How’s your love life then, young Janie?’ Mrs Norman asks as she breaks into my musings. She asks me the same question every single time I do her hair. I’m constantly disappointed that I have nothing to report.
I raise my eyebrows at her. ‘I could ask you the same.’ My client is seventy-five and, frankly, sees a lot more action than I do at forty years her junior.
She giggles at that. ‘Men these days.’ She shakes her head in despair and I narrowly avoid stabbing her with the sharp end of my tail comb. ‘All they want is sex, sex, sex!’
I do hope not at Mrs Norman’s age.
‘That Viagra has a lot to answer for. There used to be a natural time when interest in “things like that”,’ she mouths that bit into the mirror, ‘used to wane. But not now. Oh no. They expect to still be doing it until they’re ninety. Twice a night.’
More head shaking. ‘All I want is someone to take a turn around the dance floor with me and perhaps share a nice meal or two. I don’t want the Last Tango in Paris.’
She makes me smile. I hope when I’m her age I have as much go in me. Come to think of it, I wish I had as much now. Finishing off the set, I tie a pink hairnet over the top. ‘Let’s get you under the dryer.’
Mrs Norman picks up her handbag and follows me towards the back of the salon to where our two dryers are. I sit her down and find some magazines for her. She likes the more lurid ones, chock full of gossip: Closer, Heat and Now.
‘Are you all right?’ I ask as I lower the hood towards her.
‘Cup of tea?’
‘I’d love one.’ Then, as I turn to go to the staff room to find a junior to make it, my client unexpectedly takes my hand and squeezes it. ‘You’ll find someone,’ she says. ‘A lovely lass like you.’
‘You should come ballroom dancing with me. It’s not all old fogeys, you know. They’d be like bees around a honey pot with a young thing like you.’
‘Are there any spare men then?’
‘Mostly spare women,’ she concedes sadly.
The story of my life. ‘I’ll get you that tea.’
In the staff room, I can’t find any of the juniors. They’re probably all out at the back of the salon having a sly smoke, as Nina and I once would have been, so I make the tea myself. Our staff room is not glamorous. There are row upon row of hair dyes and supplies, stacks and stacks of towels, piles of coats mouldering damply now that the weather has turned cold and wet, and the usual amount of tat and paraphernalia associated with teenage girls. Our owner, Kelly, keeps threatening to make us clean it all up but, thankfully, she never follows through.
Kelly only bought the shop a couple of years ago or, more accurately, her rich boyfriend did. I think Phil Fuller thought it would give her something to play with while he was busy being an ‘entrepreneur’. For that, I read ‘small-time crook’ or something else similarly dodgy. Our boss is only twenty-seven while her boyfriend is thirty years older than her. I wonder if she would still be with him if he wasn’t a millionaire with cash to flash. She’s tiny, pretty and blonde. He’s a portly, red-faced bloke with a beer belly like a bowling ball and a penchant for gold chains and bracelets. Would I content myself with a man like that? I wonder. How is that a perfect match? Yet they seem to get along well enough.
Nina follows me in, plonks herself down next to a pile of towels waiting to be folded and picks up a magazine to flick through. ‘Mrs Norman trying to sort out your love life again?’
I laugh. ‘Of course.’
Nina Dalton is my best friend. She and I go back a long way. We were friends all through senior school from the age of eleven
and it was no coincidence that we both went into hairdressing. All those hours we spent doing each other’s hair in my bedroom
didn’t entirely go to waste as my parents had feared. We’ve worked here together since we were both starting out as juniors
many years ago. I had a Saturday job to start with and when I went full-time, I persuaded the then owner to take Nina on too.
Now I’m sure she’s one of the main reasons I’ve stayed here so long. My friend is the polar opposite to me and has gone down
the high-maintenance, white-blonde road and has to have her roots done every couple of weeks, usually by me. She’s a blue eyed
beauty with an enviably curvy figure whereas I’m boyish, straight up and down. Nina reaches into her bag and pulls out an apple. Since she gave up smoking, my friend chain-eats fruit in an attempt to keep her curves in control. But then she also embraces chardonnay wholeheartedly as a fruit-based drink and immediately undoes a lot of the good work.
Despite its optimistic moniker, our salon certainly isn’t the most cutting-edge one you’ll ever come across. We’re based in a
lovely little courtyard of shops just off the High Street in Buckingham, a middle-of-the-road place that is the county town of this area. Very charming in its own way but, admittedly, not Beverly Hills. We compete with another much more trendy salon here that should be called Cutting Edge, but isn’t. We do our fair share of hair extensions and celebrity lookalike cuts for the younger crowd, but our main clientele are the Mrs Normans of the world with their wash-and-sets and their regular perms.
It’s nice enough in here. We had a much needed makeover not long ago and now we’re all matt mocha walls with chocolate chairs and silver-gilt-framed mirrors at each station. Instead of the scruffy lino, a new marble-effect floor was put down and all our towels are coordinated in shades of brown and cream. The clients seem to like it.
Perhaps it shows a lack of ambition that I’m still here after all this time and haven’t thought to go chasing fame and fortune in one of the London salons. But it wouldn’t do if we were all like that, would it? I might not be setting the world alight, but I’m happy. Ish.
‘She does have a point, Janie,’ Nina says, munching her apple as I clatter about with cups. ‘You’ve been on your own for a while now.’
‘I like being on my own.’ I don’t really. I hate it. But my long term partner, Paul, and I split up nearly a year ago and, I don’t know, I just can’t face that whole dating scene again. I’m thirty five and I’d just feel bloody silly starting all over with someone new. You sort of get past it, don’t you? I’d hoped that once I was into my twenties, ‘dating’ would be a word that wouldn’t trouble my vocabulary again. It’s not as though anyone has asked me either. There are no hordes of attractive, available men beating a track to my door so the problem has never arisen.
I lay out Mrs Norman’s tray (white china cup and saucer, stainless-steel pot and tiny milk jug) and pop on a few of those individually wrapped caramel biscuits that she likes so much. Kelly says the clients are only to have one each – portion control – but to me, customer service isn’t always about balancing the books. I remember a time when Mrs Norman had very little joy in her life and those few biscuits managed to bring a smile to her face every week. You can’t put a price on that, can you?
‘We need to do something about it, Janie Johnson,’ Nina says decisively and I turn my attention away from caramel biscuits and back to my friend. ‘Get you out a bit more. Find you a hot lover with pots of cash and a Ferrari.’
‘Yes,’ I say without enthusiasm.
‘Gerry must be able to lay his hands on a spare bloke somewhere.’
The last person on earth I’d want meddling in my affairs of the heart is Nina’s husband, Gerry. Mrs Norman, bless her, is bad enough.
I wish everyone would realise that I’m OK like this. I don’t want excitement. I don’t want change. I certainly, absolutely, most definitely don’t want another man in my life.
Wrapped Up In You is out now! Click on the link below to get your copy.
Janie Johnson is ringing the changes this Christmas.
As a thirty-something hairdresser, Janie's single status is a constant source of concern for her clients as well as her friends. So after one too many questions about her love life, a blind date disaster and hearing her ex-boyfriend is getting married, Janie decides it's time to do something dramatic. Leaving winter behind, Janie takes the plunge and books an exotic trip to Africa. Her friends think she's mad and Janie thinks they may very well be right. Until that is she meets her gorgeous tour guide, Dominic.
But all good things must come to an end. Can Janie now face spending a snowy Christmas back home without him, or will she get her Christmas wish in Wrapped up in You?