Raising life

A haircut for a child? I know that my favourite place, Franco's, won't do. That large, naked male torso in the corner, and libidinous gay men drooling about the night before, don't seem quite appropriate. But there is an alternative: the local kids' clothes shop which offers haircuts once a week.

We're standing outside its locked door on a freezing street. Waiting. It's like hanging around on a Sunday morning outside an Irish pub that doesn't open until Mass has finished.

But if you don't wait, you don't get a numbered raffle ticket that secures one of the rationed places. Without it, your chance of a trim is blown for another week. It's also best to be first. Considerate farmers would understand - at the abattoir you don't let your stock mill around with others waiting for the chop. They get upset.

Yet I'm unprepared for just how upset my child can become. After all, I remember loving the barber's: the hydraulic chair, the Brylcreemed men who did the cutting, that bristly bit at the back of the neck which you could feel for days afterwards.

Nevertheless, I can understand why she may be concerned. I'm also not yet accustomed to the idea of children having bits lopped off. In their initial months babies don't need anything like this done. The hair stays short on its own; nails take care of themselves. Cutting our child's hair is a rite of passage, like weaning, disconnecting her from the newborn baby. On our first visit the hairdresser seemed to understand - she saved a keepsake lock.

We're inside the shop now, playing with bricks. "You can come through now," says a distant voice. Behind the door stands a high chair, where we sit, her on my knee, apparently good-humoured. The hairdresser flatters and smiles at her curious customer, stroking her twisting head, but always making sure that the dreaded implements are kept out of sight. And then, as the scissors begin to snip, pandemonium breaks out. She gets hot, I get hot. Guilt. I've forgotten her teddy and her drink: I have entered the lion's den unarmed.

The hairdresser soothes. A gang of parents wave and make funny faces as a distraction. But, now on my shoulder, she squirms and roars while the scissors skillfully avoid her eyes and ears. And when it's done, in barely a moment, a cheeky lopsided cut frames a wet, red face. Hasty thank-yous to the assembled entertainers and we take flight on to the freezing street. She's clutching a brick as I keep hold of her. No time for us to grab a lock of hair.