I have struggled with my vanity – oh, how I’ve struggled with it over the years! It’s like trying to stuff a baby into a sleepsuit; no sooner have you got an arm into one sleeve than the other arm pops out, and then the legs, and you have to start the whole thing all over again.
Nonetheless, despite my struggles, there are some things that I feel are forgiveable vanities.
Getting rid of my grey roots is one of them. I don’t have many white hairs anyway, just an irritating clump at the front of my parting. It’s a sort of Mallen streak without the quirky glamour. More of a Mallen tuft, really.
So I’ve come to see Paul again to be unMallened.
My hair really does look very nice when he’s finished darkening it (I can’t bring myself to say dyeing it – even though I just did), then cutting and drying it.
So nice that another client even comments on it. (Get down, Vanity! Back in your box!)
“Yes,” says Paul, squinting at his handwork critically. “Penny’s got great hair. She’s a hairdresser’s dream.”
“Am I?” I say, with excitement. “Really? A Hairdresser’s Dream?”
“Oh, yes,” he says. “Any hairdresser would kill for the chance to work on hair like yours.”
I am thrilled with this. I’m a Hairdresser’s Dream I tell myself as I bounce down the street afterwards, tossing my head unnecessarily so I can feel my Dream Hair swishing about. That’s for the first two minutes.
After that, I start feeling quite annoyed; what on earth is the point of this particular compliment?
In fact as I walk home, I get crosser and crosser.
I know it’s a bit ungracious, and I’m certainly not one to look a gift compliment in the mouth, but being a Hairdresser’s Dream is not like being a Fashion Designer’s Dream (long legs, great body, poise and an elegant strut), or a Hollywood Film Director’s Dream (star quality, beautiful face, magnetic looks) is it?
And it’s not even as if the HD quality of my hair has any practical use; it still insists on re-arranging itself into pointless kinks overnight, and then, upon brushing, sulks and droops listlessly over my left eye.
So all in all, it’s a compliment with extreme limitations. In fact, I don’t think many hairdressers have even noticed the HD quality of my hair.
Still, by the time I get home and admire myself in the hall mirror, I am back in a glass-half-full frame of mind.
It’s always heartening to get a compliment.
All I have to do now is come up with subtle ways of introducing it into conversations without compromising my natural modesty.
It’s going to be a challenge.
I’m messing about on my laptop – surfing Ebay for outrageous shoes that I know I’ll never, ever buy – when Harriet suddenly calls me on Skype and her face fills the screen. It’s such a Star Trek sort of thing to do. Having a conversation with someone miles away and being able to see them talking to you at the same time. How can that happen? How do aeroplanes stay in the sky? Why do kitchen scissors always disappear? Why do I always desperately need the toilet just after I’ve painted my nails? Ah, life’s imponderables. What a dull place the world would be without them.
“I know! I’ll show you round the house,” Harriet says, and there is a flurry of five minutes of blurry images of different bathrooms and different girls’ bedrooms (“…and this is Em’s room, and this is Alex’s room….) before I am suddenly looking at all her housemates who are gathered together in their sitting room and looking gorgeously fresh-faced.
(There is a tiny version of me on the screen in the bottom left hand corner looking confused and slightly guilty (caught out in my mission to find the perfect pair of leopard-skin platforms).
“Now you show everyone round our house,” she says, and I set off on my own blurry tour with Harriet shouting at me periodically to stop pointing the camera at the ceiling.
“Let’s go and see Archie, now!” I say and make my blurry way down to the kitchen.
“Ahhh!” they all say when I finally manage to focus on him. (Although an English bull terrior isn’t really an Ahhh! sort of dog. More of an Arghhh! sort of dog, to be honest.)
Archie gets so excited and confused because he can hear Harriet but can’t see her, that he runs upstairs into forbidden territory and promptly wees on the new carpet in Lucy’s room while I’m saying goodbye to Harriet.
“Don’t worry,” I tell Lucy. “Leave this to me.”
I fetch an old towel from the airing cupboard, put it over the wet patch and stand on it, then jump and hop on it, then finally kneel on it until all the wee has been soaked up and the carpet is dry. Then I clean it with a damp cloth and dry it again.
I don’t have many skills that I’m proud of, but I am exceptionally good at cleaning up wee.
“I spent most of your childhood standing on old towels in various rooms,” I tell her modestly.
“Really?” she says. I can tell she is impressed by my calm competence.
“Oh, yes,” I say. “When all three of you were little, and being potty trained, it was practically a non-stop pastime.”
I’m about to tell her a lot more about all the wacky wee-cleaning-up stories from her youth, but Lucy suddenly remembers something very important that she absolutely has to go and do at that very second.
Never mind. I can wait.
I sit up in bed to drink the tea that Mr Young has kindly brought me (I say kindly, but this is actually one of his jobs. I like to give him simple regular tasks to keep his mind active) and realise that there is an excruciating pain in my right shoulder. I can barely lift the cup to my lips.
(It’s not exactly a new pain; it’s been there in a subdued sort of way ever since I spent three days in bed with a migraine, lying on my stomach and wimpering into the pillow. Not that I’m one to complain.)
We agree that I must get it sorted out, so I ring the Broadway Chiropracters and make an appointment to see Morton this morning. After Mr Young, Tom, my father and Paul, Morton is my favourite man. Whenever bits of my body go wrong – which they are doing with depressingly frequent regularity – I go and see Morton and he puts it right again in minutes.
“Ah,” he says, making me lift and bend my arms, “it’s not your shoulder at all. It’s here,” and he pokes at my back. “It’s because you’ve been sleeping on your stomach. Very, very bad.” He shakes his head and looks disappointed with me. “Very, very bad.”
He leads me over the bench and I lie on my stomach (which is somewhat ironic, I can’t help feeling).
I always know exactly when he is about to do something bone-crackingly agonising because he starts talking about something completely random in an attempt to relax and distract me. Unfortunately, the more random it is, the more I know it’s going to hurt so this ploy isn’t particularly successful.
So when he starts chatting about his brother’s birthday party, and suddenly tells me to take a deep breath, I know it’s really going to hurt. And it does. For precisely one second – which, coincidentally, is exactly the same time as it takes me to scream.
But it’s worth it; immediately afterwards, I can lift my arm above my head again without any pain. Just one more brief lecture from Morton about never, ever sleeping on my stomach again and that’s it.
Tonight, I try sleeping first on my back, and then on my side. It’s not easy. I lie awake for a very long time and then give up and surf for shoes on Ebay.
Completely by chance, Mr Young is also going to see Morton this morning for his regular check up; he has his back re-aligned every three months. It’s obviously not an easy job, being Mr Young’s spine.
“It’s worth it, but so painful, when he does that cracking thing, isn’t it?” I say.
“I wouldn’t say it’s painful,” he says, looking surprised. “A bit of a twinge, but not painful.”
I’m outraged. “It is painful,” I tell him. “It’s really painful. And I should know, because I’ve got a very high pain threshold.”
“How do you know?” he asks.
This is a fair question. I don’t know. I’ve just always assumed I have. I assume I’m good at most things, even when logic tells me I’m not. It comes from being a glass-half-full sort of person.
“I just have,” I say. I’m going to bluff this one out. “I’m very brave and stoic usually.”
“No you’re not,” he says. “Now, Archie’s stoic. He had his injection yesterday and didn’t make a sound.”
This is actually because Archie’s a bit simple. He adores going to the vet and having medical examinations, and eats pills as if they were sweets. That’s not stoic, in my book. That’s just plain stupid. Archie is, I suspect, a bit simple, but I don’t like to tell Mr Young this.
“Stoic’s a good name for a dog, isn’t it?” I say, changing the subject. “Here boy! Stoic! Stoic! Come!”
Mr Young looks at me as if I’m the simple one, and goes off to see Morton.
I make a list of all the painful things I’ve ever endured, and try to remember if I was stoic at the time.
To be completely honest, when I come to think of it, I’ve probably done more than my fair share of wincing, crying and screaming over the years.
I have a horrible feeling that I have a very low pain threshold.
Mr Young may have a higher pain threshold than me, but I bet he’s not a Hairdresser’s Dream.