Style: Highlights of the super-salon

Under the Counter With Lindsay Calder
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The Independent Online
I can't say that my coiffure has progressed much since my student days and Lilian's salon in Scotland, where Lilian, or one of her daughters, had a good stab at a bob for pounds 3.50, and would wrench your hair through a smelly rubber skull-cap to produce straw- coloured (and textured) highlights for a further pounds 15.

Last week, with my roots looking like a freshly tarred runway, I decided it was time to get serious. I needed a Vidal Sassoon, Nicky Clarke - a "salon-to-the-stars" sort of place. John Frieda offered me an immediate appointment with Jake, who was a senior colourist, so highlights would be pounds 90. The receptionist asked if I would be seeing anyone else after Jake. Like who? I said no.

This place was so smart that it didn't even have its name on the outside - it certainly didn't have "students and pensioners half price on Tuesdays". As I reached the door, it opened to a voice saying, "Good afternoon Miss Calder, Jake is expecting you." Spooky. This girl - who would have been a Victorian housemaid in a former life - then stood silently behind me, until someone else came to escort me to Jake.

I had been expecting a camp young fashion victim, but no. Jake was fortyish, grey and heterosexual, and had just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren lifestyle advert. He was a no-shit colourist, and after examining my hair through his round preppy glasses, got to work. I couldn't help staring at him, as he folded up the foils, wondering why he wasn't loading up the Range Rover to take his sons fishing, or at home, sitting on a tartan throw, in front of a log fire, with a Scotch in his hand.

Instead of the usual "goin' somewhere nice for your holidays?" he talked about art, but fortunately conversation was kept to a minimum, so I watched the rest of the salon through the mirror. All the women were identical - slightly classier versions of Dorien from Birds of a Feather - with layered tresses, blinding gnashers and perma-tans. Tycoon-wife next to me had two young men blow-drying her hair and she enjoyed every minute of her own reflection, as they pranced round her chair to achieve maximum uplift. Her Bentley was waiting outside.

During rinsing my ignorance of super-salon etiquette was revealed. The rinser asked "who will you be seeing now, Miss Calder?" I looked blank. "Who will be blow-drying you?" That I didn't know the answer to this was clearly a big no-no, and the rinser excused herself, then scuttled off to have a whispered conflab at the desk. On her return she informed me that I hadn't booked to "see anyone afterwards" when I telephoned. The penny dropped - you want blow-dry? You pay extra.

Blow-drier and I got off to a bad start. She sounded like an Aussie, so to make conversation I said, "You're a long way from home. Not from these parts with your accent, are you?" "No," she replied curtly, "I'm from Hertfordshire." Two and a half hours, three Hellos and two glasses of water later, I was done. The pounds 90 highlights bill had crept up to pounds 110.50 by the time I came to pay: an extra pounds 17.50 for the blow-dry, and, would you believe it, pounds 3 for the water. As if that wasn't bad enough, they didn't take credit cards. OK, the highlights are pretty good - I could stick on a pair of jodhpurs and pose with Jake in a Polo Sport advert and it would all look very natural. But maybe I'll give Lilian a call to see if she's got a cousin in London. She wouldn't have dreamt of charging me for a cuppa.

Half-head highlights from pounds 45-pounds 100, cut pounds 35-pounds 100, blow-dry pounds 17.50-pounds 50, glass of fizzy water pounds l.50, John Frieda, 4 Aldford Street, London, 0171 491 0840.