ETCETERA / Other People's Jobs: No 1 THE HAIRDRESSER

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The Independent Culture
THERE is the photograph with the peacock feather arranged diagonally across it, cutting the mouth into two uneven parts. One side is grinning, the other is down-turned. 'That's there to give the impression the feather is tickling the mouth out of shape,' explains the owner and chief artist-in-hair of 'Hair By Christmas' - Elton Sydney Paschal Clough. ('My real name. I live with my mother, etcetera.').

There is also a photograph of a woman in the back of a car fastened to the back of a small wooden box and hung on the wall. 'That's an example of double confinement,' explains Elton. 'She's confined by the car in the photograph and then she's confined by the photograph being stuck inside a box.' Another photograph, tacked to the window shows somebody cleaning the windows. You get the idea.

'This is by no means a typical hairdresser's,' says a young woman stylist who works in the Sheffield salon. She doesn't cut hair but has the job of extending, plaiting, 'dreading', blending in bits of coloured wool and beads. 'I find doing this is more religious than the religious paintings in the National Gallery,' she says. 'It's taking God's work; complementing it with your art, then sending your joint creation out on to the streets.'

A young man with a moustache enters the shop. He has come to train his side-burns for the football match on Saturday: 'I always train my burns before a match. Elton's a friend. He lets me come in and neaten up before I watch football.' He sits down at a stool with an electric trimmer and its insistent insect sound drifts into the midge-cloud of human chatter.

Elton stands over a girl with golden hair. 'I want it changed but not too much,' she says. Between two fingers, like a cigarette, he pulls a thousand glinting strands towards his face, then lets them drop again.

'What's the purpose of all this hair- dressing, Elton?' I ask.

Elton replies cryptically. 'If each of these hairs had a meaning,' he says as he snips, 'what would it all add up to?'

The girl's face is frozen except for her eyes; they seem to adjust in minute shudders to the re-shaping of her hair. Then she steps from the chair and the last loose hairs are brushed and picked from her shoulders.

'I like to pare away the mystery and sentimentality from hairdressing,' says Elton. He goes on to tell me that Christmas shouldn't be a time for sentimentality. He's written an anti-sentimental Christmas carol. After asking permission from the other stylists, he starts to sing:

Reindeer roasting on an open fire

Santa chopping up his sleigh

Presents lost on the way from

the shops

Mother's hair is going grey. . .

'I like to go straight to the bones and slice the sentimentality away from hairdressing,' says Elton. ''The hair should be the servant of the person.'

According to Elton there are two main types of hairdresser and these are, equally, to be avoided. There is the Hairdresser Enslaved to Greed. Example: 'Don't take so long over it, girl] Why take six minutes over that hair when you could take two?' Then there is the Hairdresser as Dictator, who requires the compliance of the Customer as Sacrificial Victim or Experimental Object. Example: 'No, no, you must take my word for it, as a professional, Madam; the only Look worth bothering with at the moment is the Frazzled Gooseberry.' Elton's own professional motto is 'Hopeless Hair Has Hope Here.' He tells me some 'poor blighters' have very thin hair and if he could perform miracles he'd like to make thin hair thick.

'So why 'Hair By Christmas'?'

'Partly I didn't want to call myself 'Elton's' because Elton John was big. Also I take a long time over hair so if anyone asks me, 'How long is it going to take?' I tell them it should be ready by Christmas. Then there's the message of hope.'

I'm encouraged to have a go and I end up dyeing a portion of a man's fringe rhubarb. 'My favourite woman is Purdy from the Avengers,' he offers unprovoked. 'Her real name's Joanna Lumley. She's got a high IQ.' A drop of glistening rhubarb colour runs down his nose. 'Don't worry, it washes out,' he encourages me. My own nose is beginning to twitch in this atmosphere of sprays, gels and lotions, fixatives and holds. I keep sniffing back sneezes.

The decor of the shop, old Christmas cards, spray-on snow, Christmas graffiti, gaudy reindeer, are beginning to whizz and whirr about me. My ears are being tickled by bits of stray hair, overhead wigs and casually dropped words like 'candy-flossing scissors'.

''It's a bit of a carnival in here,' I say to Elton.

'Yes,' he says.

I sit down and flick through a copy of Options, its cover graced with a woman with a glossy black bob. I decide, after all, I probably wouldn't wish to be a hairdresser.-