I have occasionally wondered, in idle moments, what it feels like to be a woman. On Tuesday, I got the chance to find out. No actual surgery was involved (well, not much, anyway), the sensation lasted less than an hour, and it concerned one of life's more trivial experiences. But it was, by the supposedly impoverished standards of male insight, a revelation.
It all began with the need for a haircut. My usual venue – Omar's, where a trim and a chat about the weather are available for £9, plus tip – was closed, as was its nearby rival next to the flooring centre. So I took a bus into Croydon, inspected a couple of premises, decided they had more of the betting shop than the personal grooming expert about them, and passed on to the bank. Business completed, I left, and there, opposite, was a swish-looking women's hairdressers called Rush. I went in and asked if they knew of a decent men's hairdresser's in town. "Well," said the young woman, "we could do it." And, before I had time to consider the consequences, I agreed.
I looked around. There was not a copy of the Daily Star in sight. Nor were there any flypapers hanging ominously in the corner, postcards from Cyprus wedged in the mirror, or old blokes waiting ahead of me, wheezing over the Exchange and Mart. This was uncharted territory. It looked like the lobby of a smart hotel.
Kindly female hands led me to the corner, where jacket and bag were removed and stowed. I was ushered to a soft chair, where a young stylist ("Hello, I'm Victoria") perched beside me, and, like a cross between a shrink and a wedding planner, probed the history of my nondescript hair, the journey I might wish it to undertake, and whether I had ever consider having it done this way; or even that. "No," I kept repeating. "I just want it tidied up a bit, really."
This unambitious plan being settled upon (and pot of coffee declined), I was passed into the care of a younger woman who led me to sink-side chairs facing what I took to be the wrong way. I was about to turn mine round when I was told to sit and lean back, and the shampooing began. It was followed by a scalp massage. A man could get ideas above his station having one of these.
Next stop, the cutting – such an inadequate word for Victoria's elaborate and painstaking ministrations. To pass the time, I asked for a coffee. A tray was produced, and on it was a cafetière. Victoria, judging from the state of my hair that I might not have seen one of these contraptions before, kindly explained how it worked. I pressed down, poured, sipped, and made a few stabs at the kind of small talk expected of the hairdressee in all-male establishments.
"So," I ventured, "been away on holiday lately?" The gossipy bait was not taken. My hair, its present and future, was all that was on Victoria's mind, and, she explained, she had concerns. Big concerns.
Help, however, was at hand. After telling me of the advantages of "salon products", and the considerable research and development expense unselfishly undertaken by their manufacturers, Victoria recommended the purchase of a bottle of densifying lotion. Having seen the effects of this embrocation on my finished hair, I eagerly agreed. And so, cape removed and mutual flattery exchanged, to the cash desk. I peeled off a note. "Right, David," said the young woman. "That's £67.20." I was so stunned, I paid up.
And that is how I stumbled upon one of life's eternal verities. A visit to the hairdresser's is, for a man, a chore, a bore, and a pit-stop away from the racetrack of life. For a woman, salons have arranged for it to be an hour or two of pampering, a sorority, and something to look forward to. And I know which I now prefer. My eyes, as well as my follicles, have been opened.