Need to know: The mission - After years of combing, teasing, taming and gelling, Maggie O'Farrell decides to chop off her `only asset'

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Mothers and grannies love my headful of reddish ringlets. On a good day, they behave - with a bit of magic hair serum, they hang nicely and smoothly, they don't get in my eyes and they don't get caught in zips and clothing. But on bad days - and there are many - they can do anything they want. Tangle into impenetrable knots that have me roaring and shrieking for an hour with a comb. Stand out perpendicular to my scalp as if I'm connected to a Van de Graaf generator, refusing to be tamed by any clips or bands. Sometimes, they have a particularly nasty trick of going flat at the roots and frizzing out at the ends - rendering me a furious- faced Crystal Tips lookalike.

I conduct a straw poll on The Chop. My mother moans weakly down the telephone and murmurs about my "only asset". My boyfriend Will is emphatic: "If you cut it, I'll chuck you." I flip through unpleasant hair magazines in which everyone has silky straight hair and vacant pouts. I bore colleagues for weeks with endless, vacillating monologues. Female reactions are pretty unanimous: don't do it, you'll regret it immediately, it'll take years to grow again, it's part of your personality, I wish I had curls, don't do it, don't do it. Male reactions are a surprise: why not, if it's what you want, it might quite suit you.

Then I wake on a Monday morning to be met by a mad Medusa in the mirror. By about one in the afternoon I am sitting in my hairdresser, Veena's chair. "Cut it all off!" I say with relish. "Are you sure?" she counsels (understandably, since the poor woman has coaxed me though years of growing and tending it), "have you really really thought about it?" I tell her I have, and before I can change my mind, she's clipping off the strands at the nape of my neck.

There is no relief like it - seeing long hanks of hated hair dropping to the floor. It takes an hour and a half to complete and the ring of dead hair surrounding the chair gets bigger and bigger. The only time I'm struck by doubt is when we're down to about three inches and it's all swept off my face: "I look like Edwina Currie!" I scream, hysterical. Veena, with the Zen- like calmness necessary for her profession, reminds me she hasn't finished yet. When she has, I'm left with an inch crop all over. Veena pulls the fringe to one side and pushes a clip into it. My curls are short, almost nonexistent, flattened, sculpted. Tamed. I smile slowly and triumphantly: game, set and match. I win. I am master.

Outside, wind whistles past my ears and down my neck. My head feels light and oddly imbalanced. I still have the gestures - tossing my head, passing my hand over my forehead to clear my eyes of wayward strands - but no longer the hair. I keep catching sight of myself in shop windows and nearly falling over when I realise that crop-haired person is me. My eyes and cheekbones look huge, my neck at least a metre long.

I let myself into Will's flat like a catburglar, my shorn locks covered. He is lying on the sofa, but sits up when confronted by me standing in the middle of his living room with the furry hood on my parka fastened round my face, a la Kenny from South Park.

"I've got a surprise for you," I say, my voice slightly muffled. There is a long pause. Will frowns. "You haven't cut your hair off by any chance, have you?" he says. Slowly, I pull back my hood. Will stares at me for about ten minutes, during which time he says nothing and I twitter, "You hate it don't you? Admit it. You hate it." "Don't ever have it long again," he says eventually. "If it grows, I'll chuck you".

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