I've been thinking lots lately about when and if I should go grey. At what stage should I give into those silver threads sprouting near my crown and along the part? What keeps me, and others, vainly dyeing, or augmenting, our hair?
Studied an older woman as she jaywalked in front of our car pushing her old vinyl shopping jeep, if that's what you call them. She wore a plain brown knit top, a grey skirt, flesh-coloured stockings and sensible black shoes. But her standout feature was freshly coiffed lividly dyed sparse dark chocolate hair. It was combed back around her forehead and ears; short on her neck. Her face, as she peered around at the traffic, was weathered, lined, some would say haggard, but the hair could hold its own stand up gig
Used to dye my hair a gingery colour in my mid-forties. Stopped that after my daughter told me I looked like the alcoholic woman in that film Requiem for a Dream. Hers was an orange dye job gone horribly frizzily wrong. My daughter was going for a cheap laugh, and she got it, but I think I made a hairdresser's appointment the next day. Reverted to something akin to my natural colour.
Interestingly, there are quite a few women teaching at my school who have the potential for grey hair, but none has dared to achieve it. Perhaps it's something about not wanting to give the teenagers any more ammo than they already have by virtue of their lack of manners, audacity and strength in numbers.
Many years ago, a male teaching colleague who used to drive to and from school with me, begged a favour. On the way home, would I mind going with him into the supermarket to buy a packet of hair dye? He didn't want to suffer embarrassment at the check-out, having the assistant smirking at his dark little secret. So I stole with him up the hair aisle, and interpreting his surreptitious sign language, grabbed the box of whatever it was and paid for it, while he stared off, pretending he wasn't with me. Apparently, he started dyeing his hair when he'd turned snow white in his mid-thirties whilst teaching in Africa. "I didn't want to stand out," he said, as I hung onto the steering wheel, trying not to laugh. As if his dyed hair would have camouflaged him amongst the natives.
A couple of years ago, I was in the pub with my old man and his work mates, checking out the seriously springy brown curls of one of his crew. "Do you dye your hair?" I asked him. (Yeah, I'm nosey.) I judged him to be middle aged, if the profusion of eye-brow, nose and ear hair was any indication. You know how it gets at a certain age. I suppose it could just have been a natural accompaniment to the mop of curls. "Yes," he conceded, having another sip of his pot. "Same," I said. (Well, I have these conversations with women all the time. Why discriminate? I was interested.) It was only after he left that the assembled group let out a collective guffaw. They'd been working with Jack for years. He'd been wax bald since his early twenties and had one day turned up to work in a curly wig. From that day forward, he didn't mention it and neither did anyone else, well, not to him. He even had a series of similar wigs that he wore sequentially to simulate hair growth. Evidently I was the first one to call it, but I didn't get it quite right.
My cousin's middle aged bloke had a generous seventies Robert Redford-esque ash blond mane. He was sitting with me and my old man (bald, number one) out on the patio. We'd had a couple of drinks in the sunshine and had arrived at that level of relaxed intimacy that naturally led to me getting personal and complimenting Gerry on his excellent hair, given his age. He modestly accepted the praise; turned his head just so, possibly to catch the afternoon sun's rays through the trees. Much later, my cousin told me that he was wearing a wig. Apparently, when he undresses, the hair comes off too, leaving a scant fringe of hair around the neck, which during the day is deftly blended with the wig.
So in the butcher's this morning, I'm standing behind three oldies, studying their hair. The gent on the right looks like an aged ballroom dance instructor. A thick black youthful wig adorns his old head. His shirt is white with fine black stripes, open at the collar, under a black cardigan. He's wearing matching slacks and black pointy toed slip-on shoes. He paid for his meat from a massive roll of cash that he pulled out of his pocket on his missus's order. She has an almost ubiquitous - for a Saturday morning - brown-orange bad home dye by the looks, all fluffed out to disguise the alopecia. The woman next to her is one shade lighter, but it's the same look. Must have been a sale on in Chemist Warehouse.
And there's me standing behind, wondering at what stage I transmogrify into that parody of my former self or whether I'm already there. Actually, think I'm overdue for a root boost.