"Years ago, when you went to the hairdressers' you really knew you'd been to the hairdresser's!" Karen is telling me with a sigh. This does not augur well. I'm having my hair dried by somebody who's been in the business longer than I've been born. "Oh,"she says with relish, "you'll never guess where I trained?" her face alert with the surprise of it. So I'm thinking, Vidal's on the West Coast maybe? Anyhow, no, she started in Temple Fortune (next suburb along) then went to Golders Green (ditto) for a bit, and for over twenty years she's been in Hendon. I'm at Lawrence's Hair Salon today, on Brent Street. Yes, I know I was going to spend the day in bed, but forgot I had assorted commitments (Chai Cancer Care for Reiki, picking up Nina and chums from last morning at school, so figure I'll get my hair done before tv appointment tonight.)
So, this is scary. Karen's been in hairdressing 46 years, most of that time in Hendon - very loyal clientele. I had decided to introduce some control into this experiment, so when I went into Lawrence's I took a friend's advice and said, "I just want a wash and blow-dry, but not too stiff you know - an under-blow-dry, if possible?" in my most assertive way.
Karen was on the desk. Other people told me there was no chance of an appointment at Lawrence's - one of only three of the more up-market hair salons in the proliferation around here ("Oh, today's lot, that's nothing," Karen told me, "used to be every second store was a hairdressers' in Hendon, those were the days, and some really top-market dress shops too - nothing like it is today. Still you can't stop change, can you?") - on a Thursday or Friday, but as it happens Karen has a space within the hour, which is fine.
"You can tell it's the school holidays, couldn't move in here this time last week - now it's empty," Karen says, so that explains the appointment.
This is the first salon in Hendon where I get asked, "one shampoo or two?" and answer, "uh, one?" and also get asked, "conditioner just at the ends or all the way through?" and say, "all the way through?" also with a question mark because these are questions I don't remember contemplating before.
It is the first time ever in any hairdresser's anywhere in the country that I come across this. The perfectly ordinary experience of the water first being scalding, then freezing, but the very first time the shampooist tells me, "I can't tell the difference between hot and cold, not my whole body, just my hands".
Anyhow, Karen doesn't make me look older, though the signs are not good. Within seconds we're discussing her cruise, she's going to the Meditteranean, and her own hair is pretty rigid and streaked in that way that means business, but she knows what I'm after. "I feel sorry for the young ones starting in business today, you just can't build up the same clientele. Hairdressing's changed, it's all more casual, everybody wants the natural look."
The hard as tacks thin round brush comes out, the mousse goes on ("I know you want natural, so I'm asking if you want mousse") and the tugging begins. But though it's still nothing like a Fourth Floor blowdry - where's the swing, where's the movement? - it's the best blowdry I've had in Hendon yet. Karen has a 77-year-old client who's having a double mastectomy tomorrow - in her time she's also never seen so much breast cancer as now, and she's seen many clients through the chemo baldness and subsequent regrowth. "Your hair's nice and thick, isn't it?" she'd said earlier, so I told her about losing it and it coming back. Most of her chemo clients come back with curly hair; I tell her my theory which is that mine came back straight as it was before because I never wore a wig - I think it's the wigs, and the tight covering of hair which causes the curls, not the chemo.
Karen doesn't ask about hairspray, just says she'll put some on, but it's not as stiff as the Polish version, my fingers do still go through my hair - progress.
£21.50. (Although I always leave £25.00, which is a bit illogical I guess, because the cheaper ones are getting the biggest tip. But the prices are all hovering round the £20 mark for a wash and blow-dry anyhow.)