Anyone remember (or admit to) running around in your house with a cardigan over your head? This is directed at women, we were all little girls once. No offense to you men, but if any of you did…..well.. that’s between you and your past…..Anyway, girls or women should I say, who is brave enough to say ” Yes?” I am. I use to love wearing a cardigan on my head, flicking it back like I had long flowing locks (ironic now eh) and shaking my head to feel the sleeves gently tapping my face. And it had to be a cardigan, stockings or tights did not have the same effect and made you look like an off key bank robber…..
Back then, I always had hair that was much shorter than my little sister’s. She could do so much with it, or I really should say Mum, who would plait her hair in various combinations, all topped off with lovely ribbons. which made her look so cute. Me, on the other hand…well…. ,my hair had an odd texture. curly and soft when wet, tough as goodness knows what when dry. And then it shrank! Mum would also top my hair off with a ribbon which sort of looked like a consolation prize for having hair so limited in length but bloody hard to comb out. And no matter what happened during the day, we had to come with the same amount of ribbons we left home with. I have a picture of myself at primary school age with a blue ribbon band around my hair. I can look in my eyes and see l how I felt then. With my bright smile, my eyes said, Oh I hope this makes my hair look longer, but I can safely say now, no. I therefore had a very slim curtain of comfort after my hair had been washed, as when it was damp it felt lovely. One night though, Mum broke three combs in my hair, I heard each one snap, as it struggled to run through, good thing we always had a few more.
Our brother did not escape hair management because he was a boy as once a month on Sundays, Dad would trim his hair with sheers or any new fangled clipping implements for men. He even bought a barber-type chair that could swing right round and when he was at work or out of the house, we would muck about swinging each other until the chair tipped over. Dad would always wonder why the chair did not sit well as it become wonky after a while, but we didn’t admit anything. In our house, if it was a joint transgression, we all kept our mouths shut. There would be little tufts of hair all over the floor, as our brother looked out with nearly tear filled eyes as Dad told him to hold still in case he clipped his skin. And then to top it off, Dad would gently cut a path into our brother’s scalp and it was always dead straight.
I had a dolly that had long red pinky hair. I think I gave her the name ‘Diana’ as she came in a large box with her name written on which I didn’t like. At Woolworth’s which is where I am sure my parents bought her from, there was a large selection of these dolls in the toy section which was located in the basement, all lining the top shelf of the toy department, wearing beautiful gown type dresses with pearl looking necklaces and bracelets. They were really big, must have been about 3 feet in height. Diana had a slight smile with eyes that could roll and long black lashes. Sorry to all the metric folk but I am a real casualty of England refusing to go metric all the way when our money became pounds and pence. When my mum starts buying yam and banana in kilos, well, so will I. Anyway, my dolly was the only thing I had over my sister as her dolly was round and baby-like with short blond hair. I use to love combing and brushing Diana’s hair into different styles and wished that my hair could be so fine and easy.
Mum would sometimes let us play with her hair, I don’t know how she managed this I wouldn’t have liked to have children playing about with my hair, but she did. Good thing we had television then as she would just sit and watch whilst we did our thing, but never, ever, whilst she was watching Coronation Street. We would decide who was going to do the back or front part of her hair and try to plait it which was nigh on impossible as Mum’s hair was always pressed. She had a couple of hairpieces that were all the rage then, which sat on top of her hair with large fat curls and after a while she would get us to loose out the curls, oil them up with liquid paraffin and curl it back up again.
The oils and pomades hat we used in our hair ranged from an almost neon yellow sulphur type to ones smelling sweetly of rose. The pressing oils promised a smooth and shiny finish and were either blue or green. Mum would put raw egg in our hair to condition it which I thought was a waste of good frothy eggs that would have graced the beginning of a delicious Mackeson Punch drink. Once the egg conditioner turned our hair into smelly stiff peaks, Mum would rinse this out, but the eggy smell would haunt our house for a while.
Mum would visit a lady down the road to have her hair done. There were no hairdressers that catered for women of colour back then, no salons like nowadays, it’s like you blink and there’s another new salon on the high street. There was always a scent of Blue Magic just hanging in the air mixed with the exotic smell of paraffin with a couple of pressing combs or curling tongs on top or inside near the grills of the heater. I could see how they did it, making a nice path to separate a clump of hair, grease it up with Blue Magic, take the comb out of the heater, look at it and blow on it ( I mean, we’re talking red hot here as if blowing would lower its vibrant heat) wipe it gently on a cloth and then ease it though. Smoke would gently rise up and any unfortunate strands that missed the oil, would suffer a singed death. You had to be really good at using the curling tongs which looked really dangerous to me, timing was essential to avoid making a curl into a burnt stump.
I use to dread it when Mum said that my hair was to be pressed, which was not often, but when it did, this meant that my hair would be actually manageable for a while. No more me streching forward with hunched shoulders as Mum gently tugged me back to fight with the comb, no more aching scalp The part I really hated was having the hair near my ears done. Mum would say ” Hold it down, hold it down” but the oil from my hair made my ears greasy and I could feel the heat of the comb coming closer and closer and closer….. and my ear sliding out of my grasp, like it wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And then, PING! it saw what the fuss was about and this was really painful! You would often see your friends coming to school with a small burnt patch either around the ear or on it. And not just round the ear, anywhere there was short hair, little brand marks would be there. As soon as we all grew older and pressed our own hair. the scars got lesser, practice does make perfect!
At primary school, hair was not too much of an issue but at secondary school, where you had to travel on a bus presented a new problem. A hair style that would last the day and withstand the sometimes hazardous journey. I once found myself hanging off the back of a Routemaster Bus which I had jumped on whilst it was moving off and nearly swung myself of it, only thinking about how my hair must look, as the breeze ripped out my fragile hairstyle, And then there was the meeting of new people from the distant lands or Woolwich, Brockley, Ladywell and New Cross so style and fashion was a big deal. I tried my best, but when that umbrella flick up type hairstyle came in ( I can’t remember the correct name of this look but people of my age will know what this means.) I had to admit defeat. My sister’s hair just kept on growing, she could comb it out into a large Afro, pin it up with sponge curlers and reveal the latest style.